Monday, July 6, 2020 -
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Chemical weapons in Syria

The US is threatening Syria, if Syria should use its chemical weapons. Good policy. Bad timing. Wrong strategy.

The time to threaten Syria was when it began its civil war in March, 2011. That’s when the US said that its intervention in Syria would only encourage a civil war. Actually, it was the lack of American intervention in Syria — in any way: with humanitarian help, with arms to rebels, with a no fly zone, with avoiding the UN —that encouraged this bloody, brutal, ever expanding civil war.

Now, with that civil war going badly for the ruling Assad-Alawi clique, the administration seems genuinely surprised that Syria is moving around its chemical weapons. Of course, this could be only a means of intimidation. But the best bet is otherwise, since Assad has restrained himself from no level of brutality in putting down the Syrian rebels’ demands for democracy.

Good policy: Yes, threaten Syria. Make it clear that the use of chemical weapons will be met with, let us say, more than “consequences” (to use the President’s word). Yes, intervene, not after Syria has used chemical weapons, but to secure these weapons, to prevent Assad from using them.

Bad timing. Some 45,000 Syrians did not need to die, and Assad did not need to feel boxed in to the extent that he would use, or consider using, his chemical weapons. The right time to stop Syria was 22 months ago, when the scope of Assad’s brutality was relatively contained, when the Russian opposition to intervention was not yet formulated, and when, say, a no flight zone could have been readily executed. (Keep in mind that much of Assad’s brutality has come from gunships in the air.)

Wrong strategy. Syria rebels begged America for sophisticated arms. Obama said no. The rebels have now overrun many of Syria’s depots of sophisticated arm, can potentially enforce their own no-fly zone — and are taunting the US. Angry at the US, they witness the unnecessary deaths of their countrymen. The US has turned a deaf ear to their pleas.

Strategically, the US will face a Syria empty of Assad — but full of Syrians, both Islamist and secular, who will see the US as the superpower who let it down. Not as an ally.  By playing it safe — too safe — the US has botched the Syria issue, obsessing on the loser (Assad) and showing indifference to the plight of the likely winners.

One would think that Syria’s menacing movement of its chemical weapons would provide an object lesson for the best strategy for coping with Iran: Not  watching and sanctioning. Not lecturing. Not “resetting.” Not waiting . . . until the threat reaches a truly catastrophic level.

Copyright © 2012 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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