By Kyle Wingfield
Remember Syria? Just two months ago, America was on the brink of war to punish dictator Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons against his own people.
But after weeks of delay and buck-shifting, President Barack Obama finally settled on a deal brokered by Russia: Assad would allow the destruction of his chemical weapons, and the U.S. would forgo an attack.
That was a month ago. How is it working out?
"I'm concerned about two things," U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss said during a Tuesday interview. "Number one, are they going to give us full disclosure about where their weapons are? And secondly, I'm concerned about [potential] movement of weapons out of Syria so we don't have the opportunity to destroy them."
If Chambliss, the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, still wonders if Syria will actually cooperate, maybe things aren't going so well.
And if Syria is moving its weapons across borders, it would raise an ironic possibility. It has long been speculated that an unusually heavy flow of traffic to Syria from Iraq, just before our 2003 invasion, included some of Saddam Hussein's chemical stockpile.
Now, Assad might be moving chemical weapons to Iraq. Another possibility is Lebanon, where, Chambliss said, "If they get in the hands of Hezbollah, then it could present real problems."
While I argued against the attack the White House was mulling, Chambliss still feels strongly that Obama should have acted.
"There was no doubt in anybody's mind who had been involved in the discussions, and inside the situation room, and inside the classified briefings, that we were going to take a strike," Chambliss said. "When [Obama] delayed his decision in effect, and then changed his mind, it was pretty clear that the Russians, and everybody else in the Middle East saw a weakness, and that weakness was really exposed when we wound up going to the negotiating table with the Russians."
Americans seem to have moved past Syria. But Chambliss said there are other countries that could pop up soon as problems -- he mentioned Somalia and Yemen -- and even more places where terrorists could strike. He cited al-Shabaab jihadists' three-day siege of a shopping mall in Kenya last month, resulting in 72 deaths and more than 200 people wounded.
"You get into northern Africa, and there's not much in the way of rule of law at all, and there's plenty of opportunity for al-Qaida or al-Shabaab to really engage, and they are, in a big way," Chambliss said.
"There's an awful lot of conversations going on among bad guys, some things they might do, because there are a lot of easy targets out there. And Kenya's a good example. What if that happened at Lenox Square or something? Just thank goodness we've got the intelligence world awake, and we've been able to keep something like that from happening here. But I can tell you that there are folks in Yemen, there are folks in Somalia, and that part of the world, that are scheming and planning every day to carry out attacks on [U.S.] soil."
To that end, Chambliss was also critical of the Obama administration's refusal to detain and interrogate terrorists, such as the recently captured Abu Anas al-Libi, for the same length of time it took to obtain key intelligence from the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a.k.a. KSM.
"This guy [al-Libi] was a close confidant of bin Laden. He has a treasure trove of information of what's going on, now, in al-Qaida," Chambliss said. "But now we're taking him to New York, and he's lawyered up, he's clammed up, [and] we're not going to get any more information from him.
"The administration will say we've gotten valuable information from him; that's what they have to say. But the fact is, the information we got from KSM was over a period of years, and not weeks, and here we had, 10 days, 15 days, something like that."
And like KSM, al-Libi may know about red lines we desperately want to keep from being crossed, not debate about dealing with after the fact.