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Olga in a Hat with Feather, 1920[i]
Olga au chapeau à la plume
(Photo credit: Wikipaintings)
Artwork: Pablo Picasso (25 October 1881 – 8 April 1973)

On Thursday, I went to Montreal to share lunch with a friend of many years.  She had come from Ottawa and I, from Sherbrooke.  Our friendship dates back to the year I studied in Montreal.  We did, of course, discuss the weather and spent an hour or so shopping.  But we then found a café and simply talked.  We discussed Pauline Marois, the current “separatist” premier of Quebec.  I told my friend that a few months ago Pauline Marois had hired someone to identify the wrongs currently inflicted on Quebec by Ottawa.  My comment put an end to that part of the conversation.  We laughed.  However, I have since read that Pauline Marois and Justin Trudeau, the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, “may have just buried” separatism.


Assad’s Agreement

We went on to speak about Syria.  We were both delighted that an “off-the-cuff” remark by US Secretary of State John Kerry (born 11 November 1943) had led Russian President Vladimir Putin (born 7 October 1952) to call on President Bashar al-Assad (born 11 September 1965) to put his chemical weapons under international control and to destroy them.  There is an end to this intervention, which is its main but very real virtue.  President Bashar al-Assad has warned that “after a strike, one can expect anything.”


portrait-of-olga-1920_jpg!BlogPresident Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961) has been described as “ambivalent” by CNN’s Gloria Borger.  Given the events of the 2000s: two wars, a huge debt, not to mention the loss of life and limbs, one can understand why President Obama is a reticent warrior.  Had there been a strike on Syria, the US would have led an international coalition and no one would have entered Syria, a sovereign country.  Yet, a strike is dangerous.  President Assad has warned that “after a strike, one can expect anything.”


Portrait of Olga, 1920
(Photo credit: Wikipaintings)

The use of chemical weapons, i.e. weapons of mass destruction, is prohibited under international law.  Yet, on 21 August 2013, the Assad regime allowed 1,429 Syrians, including more than 400 children to be gassed to death.  Can the international community simply stand by?  Assad committed a crime and may have done so to draw the United States into a conflict with Syria and, possibly, with Russia.  I would prefer to dismiss the idea of a setup, but I suspect political wranglings on a larger rather than smaller scale.


Mother and Child, 1922 and Portrait of Olga reading, 1920 (Photo credit: Wikipaintings)

Despite its debt, the United States remains a “superpower” and it has a formidable arsenal.  But it is a weary superpower and, by and large, US citizens oppose any action that could lead to yet another war.  Consequently, President Obama had been seeking the support of Congress and that of his nation before entering into a military engagement: a strike.  But there has now been an agreement.  Russia has called on Syria to put its chemical weapons under international control and to destroy them and Syria has agreed to do as President Putin proposed.  So why is President Putin entertaining the thought of a possible strike?

The Security Council

Russian President Vladimir Putin is indeed urging the US to “‘obey’ international law and not strike Syria without the approval of the United Nations.”  On Thursday, 12 September 2013, he in fact “used the editorial pages of the New York Times to make his own personal address to the American people.”  How very noble, but confusing!  Again, hasn’t Russian President Vladimir Putin persuaded Syrian President Assad to put his chemical weapons under international supervision and to destroy them?


As I wrote in my last post, Syria on my Mind, the UN may serve rather than hinder Assad’s regime.  If the Security Council votes in favour of a strike, Russia can veto that decision.  Moreover, China is one of the five nations that may veto “punitive” — I do not like that word — action against Syria.  The US owes China a fortune.


Back to Assad’s Agreement

I may be wrong, but I sense a motivation on the part of Russia to make itself a superpower intent on obstructing another or other superpower(s).  Therefore, it may be prudent on the part of the United States to concentrate on making sure Syria puts its chemical weapons under international supervision and destroys them, as President Assad has agreed to do.  I believe it would be wise on the part of the United States to insist that Assad keep his word or forever be mocked for lying to the world.

In other words, it would be my opinion that the US may be well-advised to pare the problem down to its smallest, yet enormous and central, component: the use of chemical weapons, weapons of mass destruction.  It just could be that Secretary of State John Kerry’s off-the-cuff remark can be used as an off-the-hook opportunity.

The Shoe is on the other foot

On my way home, I kept thinking that it was hugely arrogant of President Assad to be warning the international community that “after a strike, one can expect anything.”  The shoe is on the other foot.  President Bashar al-Assad has violated an international law by using chemical weapons to kill indiscriminately 1,429 citizens of his country.  It therefore seems that it is now the international community’s turn to tell President Assad that “after a strike, one can expect anything.”


Yet, as I wrote above, I believe that an intervention on the part of the United States should be limited to insisting that President Assad keep his word and put his chemical weapons under international supervision, ensuring they are destroyed.  As I have noted above,  Secretary of State John Kerry’s off-the-cuff remark and Assad’s compliance just may take the United States “off the hook.”  John  Kerry’s suggestion — that President Assad put his chemical weapons under international control — targets the offense, i.e. the use of a weapon of mass destruction, which, in my opinion, makes it an appropriate response.  Not only does such an intervention have a foreseeable end, but it also addresses Assad’s warning that “after a strike, one can expect anything.”


[i] Olga Khokhlova, a Ballets Russes ballerina, married Pablo Picasso in 1918 and is the mother of his son Paulo.  The marriage was not a happy one.  The two separated in 1935, but Picasso would not consent to a divorce as Olga was entitled to one half of his wealth.  Olga died in 1955.


Frédéric Chopin (1 March 1810 – 17 October 1849)
Nocturne No. 11 in G Minor, Op. 371
pianist: unidentified
picasso peace© Micheline Walker
14 September  2013