A man inspects a site hit by what activists said were missiles fired by Syrian Air Force fighter jets loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, in Raqqa province, eastern Syria August 21, 2013. (Reuters/Nour Fourat)
The threat of a reckless, dangerous, and illegal US or US-led assault on Syria is looking closer than ever.
The US government has been divided over the Syria crisis since it began. Some, especially in the Pentagon and some of the intelligence agencies, said direct military intervention would be dangerous and would accomplish nothing. Others, especially in Congress and some in the State Department, have demanded military attacks, even regime change, against the Syrian leadership, even before anyone made allegations of chemical weapons. The Obama administration has been divided too, with President Obama seemingly opposed to any US escalation. The American people are not divided—60 percent are against intervening in Syria’s civil war even if chemical weapons were involved.
But the situation is changing rapidly, and the Obama administration appears to be moving closer to direct military intervention. That would make the dire situation in Syria inestimably worse.
The attack that killed so many civilians, including many children, last Wednesday may well have been from a chemical weapon. Doctors Without Borders, in touch with local hospitals they support, said that while the symptoms “strongly indicate” that thousands of patients were exposed to a neurotoxic agent, they “can neither scientifically confirm the cause of these symptoms nor establish who is responsible for the attack.” The United Nations chemical weapons inspection team already in Syria to investigate earlier claims was granted permission by the government to visit the new site today; they have not yet reported any findings.
No one knows yet what actually happened, other than a horrific attack on civilians, many of whom died. No one has yet made public any evidence of what killed them, or who may be responsible. All attacks on civilians are war crimes—regardless of whether they are carried out by the Syrian army, rebel militias or US cruise missiles.
And yet the calls, the demands, the assumptions of a looming US attack on Syria are rising. NBC News reported that the US had “very little doubt” that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons. The Wall Street Journal quoted an anonymous “senior defense official” who said the military strikes being considered “would be conducted from ships in the Eastern Mediterranean using long-range missiles, without using manned aircraft. ‘You do not need basing. You do not need over-flight. You don’t need to worry about defenses.’ ”
Despite Secretary of State John Kerry’s claim that a chemical attack was “undeniable,” we still don’t know for sure that it was a chemical weapon, and we certainly don’t know who did it. Kerry spoke this afternoon, calling the attack a “moral obscenity.” If it was a chemical attack, as appears likely, it certainly is just that. So far in this war, over 100,000 people have been killed and millions forced from their homes—aren’t all of those moral obscenities?