These inspectors have been fired at, and the area they are inspecting has been contaminated with conventional weapons making their task more difficult, but not impossible. In any event, they will not pass an opinion regarding responsibility. Rather they will answer the somewhat straight-forward question of whether or not Serin has been used.
I have said before that Assad made the calculation that America and her allies did not have the stomach to oppose this heinous violation of international law. It makes sense to me that the Iranians encouraged Assad to test this proposition. This is a crucial point, because if my speculation is correct, Iran wants to know the answer as it contemplates is choices with respect to developing nuclear weapons. And even if I am wrong about Iran encouraging Syria to use nerve gas, still it must know that America is not paralyzed in the face of evil, even nuclear threats.
However, there is a long term risk to Israel and to the U.S. that comes from degrading the capabilities of the Assad regime. Nature abhors a vacuum, and never more so than when it is a vacuum of power.
If the U.S. and her allies intervene in Syria, what will a post intervention Syria look like? Again, quoting from the Washington Post:
“The one thing we should learn is you can’t get a little bit pregnant,” said retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, who was at the helm of U.S. Central Command when the Pentagon launched cruise missiles at suspected terrorist sites in Afghanistan and weapons facilities in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. “If you do a one-and-done and say you’re going to repeat it if unacceptable things happen, you might find these people keep doing unacceptable things. It will suck you in.”If Allied intervention triggers more brutal attacks by the regime, then our intervention will have been a failure. Therefore, it may seem that our response must be robust enough to prevent an escalation of the regime’s war crimes.
On the other hand, there is a risk that by degrading Assad’s military capability we may be strengthening rebel factions aligned with al-Qaeda, and so, our response must be sufficiently restrained. It’s a difficult balance, to put it mildly. The Obama administration has already announced that any proposed reaction will not be about regime change.
Basically, it boils down to this. What we want in Syria is a stale-mate in the civil war, during which both sides lose blood and treasure. At the conclusion, both sides will be too tired, poor, or degraded to do any further mischief. Shed no tears for the opponents of Assad: they are self-proclaimed enemies of America, of Israel, and of democracy.
In the meantime, the U.S. and our allies need to supply – in a very big way – humanitarian support for the civilians and refugees affected by the war. It is fair to assume that nothing we can do will win favor with the jihadist components of the opposition, and we don’t want to be associated with the tyrant, Assad. But there is a hope that we can go over the heads of the combatants and reach the average Syrian. It is even possible that Israel can play a role in providing humanitarian aid.
I believe in the idea of democracy, and I believe that the arc of history bends in that direction. But there is more to democracy than elections. There must also be open debate, free speech, a right to petition the government, a rule of law, etc.
The question is, how can Syria move from where it is now to that blessed place where democracy can flourish? We need to find a way.
To do so, we must understand that for the time being, Syria will require an autocratic ruler who has the strength and the disposition to oppose the Islamists. America needs to identify and support such a leader, and then gradually groom him to become a father of democracy.
What I have laid out here is an ambitious program, but the reasons stated justify the necessity of undertaking it. Besides, what choice do we have?
Please join me in wishing the President great success and wisdom in facing these challenges.
“… and tell ‘em Big Mitch sent ya!”