The Syria Chemical Weapons Probe “Torpedoed” by the West

Since the perplexing conflict in Syria first broke out two years ago, the Western powers’ assistance to the anti-government side has been consistent, but relatively indirect. The Americans and Europeans lay the mental, legal, diplomatic, and financial groundwork for regime change in Syria. Meanwhile, Arab/Muslim allies in Turkey and the Persian Gulf are left with the heavy lifting of directly supporting Syrian rebels, and getting weapons and supplementary fighters in place.


The involvement of the United States in particular has been extremely lackluster, at least in comparison to its aggressive stance on a similar crisis in Libya not long ago. Hopes of securing major American and allied force, preferrably a Libya-style “no-fly zone,” always leaned most on U.S. president Obama’s announcement of December 3, 2012, that any use of chemical weapons (CW) by the Assad regime – or perhaps their simple transfer – will cross a “red line.” And that, he implied, would trigger direct U.S. intervention. This was followed by vague allegations by the Syrian opposition – on December 6, 8, and 23 – of government CW attacks. [1] Nothing changed, and the allegations stopped for a while.


However, as the war entered its third year in mid-March, 2013, a slew of new allegations came flying in. This started with a March 19 attack on Khan Al-Assal, a contested western district of Aleppo, killing a reported 25-31 people. Dramatic imagery run by state news agency SANA and from a Reuters photographer showed people – including children – suffering breathing problems, some already deceased. The Syrian government and related sources were the first to report it, blaming “terrorists” as usual. In an equally predictable answer, rebels accused the Syrian military of launching the attack. [2]


Syria demanded an investigation into the event by the United Nations, and everyone else agreed. A team was assembled, but then in early April Syria blocked them, for reasons that come across as mysterious. Soon, the world was hearing unprecedent recognition that perhaps Obama’s “red line” had been crossed – not by “terrorists” but by the Assad regime – somewhere, at some times since December. The deadly nerve agent sarin is increasingly specified for reasons that aren’t entirely clear.


All this has kicked off a renewed drive for intervention based on intelligence assessments of WMD dangers, evoking widely-noted memories of the bogus U.S. case for war on Syria’s ally Iraq one decade ago. Although the latest developments cast doubt on the imminence of outright military involvement – yet again – the danger persists, and the purported reasons deserve scrutiny.

It’s only been six weeks since this saga began, but they were weeks of the whirlwind sort. Considering where all the twirling has left us – horribly confused, if not on the brink of war.

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