Another lesson in public policy comes from what appears to the arrangement with respect to Syria's chemical weapons.
It isn't a done deal.
Yet it may be, in its imperfect way.
There are many details to be settled, even before the stage of implementation.
Then the hard part, i.e., actually doing what all the parties expect.
The ultimate stage, which may never be reached, will be assuring that officials have identified and neutralized all the chemical weapons.
It may be a long time until signings and handshakes. Indeed, they may never come, if the civil war peters out or changes its nature before there is a formal agreement involving the sitting government on chemical weapons.
Even more complicated will be assuring that the numerous rebels have not gotten their hands on some of Assad's chemical weapons, or have not brought their own from outside of Syria.
Also in the air is the prospect of Assad and rebels having biological weapons, which may fit the notion of "weapons of mass destruction" even more so than chemical weapons.
As Winston said, jaw jaw is better than war war.
It is only some of the outsiders who are at a stopping point, while Syrians and other fighters continue to go at one another with conventional weapons.
The timing has allowed Barack Obama, John Kerry, and AIPAC to avoid embarrassment in Congress.
Israelis can relax their guard against a massive attack from Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah. Troops will still be on edge for what may come their way from fighting between Assad and his enemies just over the border, from fighting between various groups of rebels, or from one or another group wanting to realize its anti-Israel or anti-Jewish sentiments.
IDF medical personnel continue to deal with those wounded who make it across the border.
A likely model comes from the negotiations with Iran over nuclear weapons. By one assessment, they began in 2003
, and still appear to have a long road ahead. According to lots of commentators, it is reasonable to conclude that they are not going anywhere.
Also in the case of Iran, it may be reasonable to conclude that jaw jaw is better than war war. Or maybe not.
Iran may decide to reach all but the final stage of a nuclear weapon, or to produce a weapon without testing it, and copy Israel's posture of ambiguity as to what it has.
Israel may co-exist with a nuclear armed Iran, as Iran co-exists with a nuclear armed Israel.
The situation is far from ideal, given the repeated assertions of Iran's leadership that Israel has no right to exist.
Should Israel preempt, while all other relevant countries assert the priority of negotiations and economic sanctions?
Israel's "economic analysis," or calculations of benefits and costs in terms of human life, depend on assumptions about future behavior, and are therefore indecisive.
Perhaps the ultimate test of a policy's success is that it leaves the headlines. When lots of people no longer worry, it's no longer an issue.
Some will never be happy. Distrust is rampant, and may be justified. Good enough may have to be good enough.
None of the proposals with respect to Syria's chemical weapons being mentioned by officials from several countries is likely to bring an end to the civil war, with its considerable bloodshed, destruction, refugees, and perhaps the end of a unified Syrian state that has been a threat, but not much more than that for Israel since 1973.
Along with charges about chemical weapons are ugly reports about Syrian forces bombing hospitals and massacring civilians
, and rebel forces massacring Alawi
and Christian civilians
On the basis of what its officials have said to date, Russia will probably prevent any blaming of Assad or any other senior Syrian official for personal involvement in the use of chemical weapons by the UN Security Council.
There are proposals to pursue charges of war crimes in the International Court of Justice. If initiated, subsequent investigations, then indictments and trial--if those stages are ever reached--may take decades.
Lessons about imperfection and dissatisfaction also apply to much of domestic policy. Conditions differ only in details from the imperfections in international affairs. Some of the domestic imperfections are no less dangerous. There for all to see are homelessness, drug addiction, drunk drivers, crime and violence, imperfect medical treatment, nasty bureaucrats, pot holes in the roads, illegal immigrants, legal immigrants considered undesirable by many of the locals but who provide low-cost labor for the tasks that many locals do not want
The Obama and Kerry declarations of moral imperative, threats to attack, then backing off for the sake of Congressional approval looked like foolishness in high places, but may come to contribute to a decent resolution. Or at least a face saving accommodation that may be acceptable while being far from ideal. Bluster is part of the game. We'll never know if Kerry's and Obama's bluster was known to be that, i.e., meant to push Assad and Putin toward a deal that was known to be in the works. Or if Kerry and Obama were really as serious and foolish as they appeared.
Even after some of the insiders tell or write what they claim to know, we'll be left at least partly in the dark.
Add that to all the other discomforts we have to suffer.
Insofar as the US anniversaries of 9-11 and Israel's Yom Kippur War come in the middle of all this, it is appropriate to remember that bad things do happen, but many of us are much better off than our ancestors.
Americans might be willing to hear that their casualty rate from terror is about a tenth that of Israelis in relation to population. About the same proportions apply to military deaths since World War II and Israel's Independence.
Yet Israelis should feel relatively safe when remembering what happened to their families a generation or two ago.
Looking elsewhere, the Chinese and Indians no longer suffer periodic famines that kill millions. Latin American dictators do not rise and fall with the regularity of past decades. Africa remains complex, but optimists see positive signs, Syria and a few other Muslim spots are suffering and serving as cauldrons of hatred that may impact further afield. Christians should wonder about their future in Muslim countries. There should still be guards at Jewish institutions everywhere, and Israel will continue to invest in various kinds of defense.
With all of the above, may you have a good year. גמר חתימה טובה
Click here to return to Blog home page