Syria: Premise for attack weaker by the day

Scott Taylor

Scott Taylor

Once again, it is amazing to watch all the usual warmongering media pundits clamouring for action in Syria.

It has been four weeks since it was first alleged that chemical weapons were used against civilians in the Ghouta suburb of Damascus, and U.S. President Barack Obama is taking a lot of political heat for not launching a punitive strike against the Assad regime.

Obama has stated publicly, on numerous occasions, that use of such weapons would cross a proverbial “red line” and result in American intervention. For the war hawks, the Ghouta gas attack on Aug. 21 should have resulted in a massive round of air strikes against Syrian targets on the very next day.

Not striking immediately made the U.S. appear weak, they argued. If Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could cross the American’s “red line,” without consequence, then America’s self-appointed role as the world’s policeman would be in jeopardy.

Even the age-old argument about British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s 1938 appeasement of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler was bandied about. In simple terms, they mongered the fear that by letting Assad go unchecked by military force, Syria could next set out on a campaign of world domination that would require far greater resources to contain.

Of course, with the passage of time, the premise for a U.S. military attack on Syria grows weaker by the day.

Assad claimed from the outset that his forces did not employ the chemical weapons in the Ghouta attack, and both logic and past precedent would appear to support that claim.

First of all, Assad would need to be suicidally insane to invite a UN inspection team into Syria, only to set off a chemical attack just five kilometres from their hotel. And it would be particularly insane at this stage of the war, when his Hezbollah-supported security forces have regained the strategic upper-hand, because he knew the use of such weapons was the one thing that would draw the U.S. into the war on behalf of the rebels.

There is also the report from UN investigators into an alleged gas attack last March, which concluded that it was the Syrian rebels who had, in fact, utilized the nerve agent Sarin.

Regardless of who is to blame, Obama’s political posturing in the wake of his red line being crossed has already paid a substantial dividend. It has long been known, and never denied, by the Assad government that Syria possesses a substantial chemical weapons arsenal.

Throughout the 29-month-long civil war, Assad has steadfastly maintained that he would never use the weapons against his own people, but he would use them if Western militaries attempted to intervene on Syrian soil.

One of the major concerns for the Western powers was never so much the case of Assad using his chemical weapons, but rather what would happen if the al-Qaida faction of the Syrian rebels were able to seize the arsenal.

This was particularly worrisome to the Israelis, who knew that for the past 30 years of Assad family rule, they could trust that their border with Syria was safe. Such would not be the case if al-Qaida rebels not only seized power, but also inherited Assad’s chemical weapons.

Thus, it must be viewed as a major achievement toward eliminating such a possible doomsday scenario, that Assad has voluntarily offered to place his chemical arsenal under direct international control.

This gesture was made in response to a flippant quip by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who suggested to reporters that such a surrender of weapons of mass destruction by Assad would possibly alleviate a U.S. punitive strike. Kerry concluded by saying, “but that will never happen.”

In character with their world-class chess-playing skills, the Russians immediately spotted the opening and, with their urging, Assad offered immediate and full compliance.

For the first time, Syria is now a signatory on the international convention pertaining to chemical weapons, and diplomats are rapidly drafting the necessary documentation for international inspection and control of Syria’s chemical munitions.

A deadly, potentially game-changing element has thereby been removed from the complex Syrian crisis at the mere threat of U.S. air strikes.

I would argue that, in this instance, by pausing before simply striking out, Obama has strengthened America’s position. The hawks would prefer the world’s policeman to shoot first, shoot often and ask no questions later.

But a responsible cop knows how to employ escalation of force, and investigates the facts before taking violent action.