Chemical destruction a welcome sign

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We don’t pause very often in this space to comment on international events, but news this week out of Syria, of all places, offers an encouraging sign for hope and peace in the new year.

The first batch of material important in the manufacture of chemical weapons has been loaded onto a ship for permanent removal. The move doesn’t guarantee an end to all wars in the forever-troubled Middle East. But only a few months ago, the military might of the United States stood locked and loaded, following a horrifying gas attack that killed more than 3,000 Syrians, including children.

President Barack Obama had once declared the use of chemical weapons a “red line” that Syria could not cross without facing military consequences. But few Americans welcomed the prospect of entering yet another conflict in a country where there seemed little to gain by doing so.

Instead of invading, the United States listened to a proposal brokered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, of all people. Syria would turn over its chemical weapons in order to avoid sanctions and other threatened repercussions.

Skeptics of the proposal, including some of us at this newspaper, feared that foot-dragging and bureucratic stonewalling would delay any significant reduction of chemical weapons for years to come. But Obama and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry insisted that the Syrians be held to a meaningful timeline.

The evacuation of chemical weapons ingredients on Tuesday comes as a welcome step. Sometimes, progress is possible.