Paul Greenberg

It's all settled. Russia and the United States have agreed that Bashar al-Assad's impressive arsenal of chemical weapons will be inventoried, secured and destroyed by the middle of next year, give or take a few months. Or maybe a few decades if appeasement bears its usual poisoned fruit.

Naturally the deal doesn't cover any and all canisters of sarin Brother Assad may already have used to assure a painful and paralyzing death for hundreds of his own subjects -- from oldest to youngest regardless of age or sex. (Who says the man is not an equal-opportunity killer?)

There's no need to go into bothersome detail at this auspicious point, like whether Assad has agreed to this deal he may or may not renege on even if he signs onto it. But why let any such doubts, or even deep-seated revulsion at making another bargain with Evil, interfere with the celebratory rhetoric?

To quote our president, who rapidly becomes interchangeable with the Russian one, the agreement reached at Geneva this past week (yes, the same Geneva where the League of Nations used to meet to guarantee world peace), is "an important, concrete step which could end the threat these weapons pose not only to the Syrian people but to the region and the world."

Pop the champagne corks. At such a happy time, the image of Molotov and Ribbentrop raising their glasses to the Nazi-Soviet Pact in August of 1939, which made the Second World War certain a week later, comes back -- like a recurrent nightmare. Or the pictures of the historic summit in 1972 between Mao Tse-tung/Chou En-lai and Richard Nixon/Henry Kissinger toasting each other.

But most emblematic of all is the not so fictional final scene of George Orwell's "Animal Farm" as Comrade Napoleon and his fellow pigs celebrate their new partnership with Mr. Pilkington and friends. An innocent bystander peeking through the window might look from pig to human and back again and not tell any difference at all between the High Contracting Parties, pig and human. How little Realpolitik and its all too real results have changed over the years.

Now it's Peace in Our Time again. And it doubtless will be followed by the same old war. The peace conferences will go on and on, and United Nations resolutions will follow one after the other -- as surely as the bodies are piled higher and higher in Syria, and the refugee camps inside and outside that tormented country continue to go from full to overflowing. And the refugees will be the lucky ones. The others can suffer no more.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.