Inching closer to military intervention in Syria, President Barack Obama ordered the U.S. intelligence community to urgently gather proof over recent allegations of a Sarin nerve gas attack claiming at least 100 lives in the eastern suburbs of Zamalka, Arbeen and Ein Tarma. Syrian officials denied using Sarin gas, claiming that rebels backed by Israel carried out the attacks. Demonstrating Syria’s official falsehood, Israel confirmed yesterday that recent gas attacks were unmistakable. “In Syria, the regime has used chemical weapons and it’s not the first time,” said Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, making official denials and links to Israel look transparent. All the U.S. needs to confirm Sarin nerve gas is one autopsy of the voluminous dead children covered in white sheets. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon called on the Syrian regime to submit to U.N. weapons inspectors.
Asking Damascus-based U.N. inspectors “to be granted permission and access to swiftly investigate the incident,” Ban made a formal request to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “The use of chemical weapons is prohibited under customary international law,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, calling the “allegations exceptionally grave.” Obama warned Syria in the past that chemical weapons use would be a game-changer with regard to U.S. military intervention. “Whether or not chemical weapons were in fact used, it seems that once again in Syria many civilians have been killed in flagrant contravention of international law.” Russia and China have blocked the U.N. Security Council from condemning Syria with a forceful resolution against the use of chemical weapons. Instead of risky U.N. inspections, opposition leaders need to allow U.S. medical personnel to perform autopsies on suspected corpses.
Calling allegations of Sarin gas “completely baseless,” Syrian Information Minister Oman Zoabi told Syrian state TV the claims were made to coincide with U.N. weapons inspectors. Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinniz told Israeli radio that “chemical weapons were used, and they were not used for the first time,” accusing the international community—especially the U.S.—of “paying lip service” when it comes to military intervention. Without a single autopsy, blaming Israel for supplying al-Qaeda and other radical groups with chemical weapons shows the depth of the Damascus disinformation campaign. With a chorus of nations calling for action, including France and Turkey, Obama can’t dither much longer. Blasting the White House for a feckless Syrian policy, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called on Obama to make good on his “red line” promise of action with chemical weapons.
Expecting U.N. inspectors to go into a war zone isn’t realistic given Syrian opposition to any type of compliance to international standards. Fighting for his life against a well-funded Saudi proxy war against Syria, al-Assad has his back to wall, unloading everything in his arsenal. If the international community wants to stop the bloodshed, it’s going to take degrading the Syrian military with a series of carefully targeted air strikes. Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton—a potential 2016 presidential candidate—and McCain called for air strikes back in March 2012. Now that over 100,000 civilians have been killed and hundreds-of-thousands more displaced to neighboring countries, the humanitarian crisis has only gotten worse. Before Obama decides to intervene, he needs to map out a realistic picture of a post-al-Assad Syria, something that didn’t happen in Iraq.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff four-star Gen. Martin Dempsey offered a sobering view of U.S. military intervention in Syria. “It is a deeply rooted long-term conflict among multiple factions, and violent struggles for power will continue after Assad’s rule ends,” said Dempsey, warning Obama that the situation is more precarious than Afghanistan and Iraq. No matter what the risks, chemical weapons’ use puts Obama’s—and U.S.—prestige on the line. No matter how much opposed by Russia and China, a strong U.N. coalition to get al-Assad to the bargaining table is rapidly approaching. Obama resisted intervening in Syria for all the right reasons, especially that the country had become jaded of costly foreign wars. Other U.N. members this time around must step up a do some of the heavy lifting. U.S. can only be part of a coherent U.N.-backed response.
Looking at the bodies of young children stacked up under white sheets gives a powerful rationale to end the Syrian civil war. Whether or not toppling al-Assad will stop the bloodshed is anyone’s guess. Blaming chemical weapons use on Israel goes beyond the pale, exposing al-Assad’s egregious abuse of military rules of engagement. “There is never any military justification for the use of chemical weapons—whether by governments of anti-government armed groups—given the horrific and indiscriminate impact,” said U.N. special advisers Adama Dieng and Jennifer Welsh, heaping pressure on Russia and China to finally back Security Council action to stop al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons. White House officials need to order the autopsies and confirm what everyone already knows. No one wants another foreign war but using Sarin nerve gas on children crosses the line.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.