WMD in Syria? Here We Go Again

WMD in Syria? Here We Go Again

The invasion chorus is singing again—and making unfounded claims that forces in the conflict have used chemical weapons.


A Syrian fighter climbs atop rubble after an air force strike in Azaz. (Reuters/Goran Tomasevic.)

Hawks, neoconservatives, liberal interventionists and others—truth be told, in Washington, nearly everyone except President Obama himself—seems to want to get involved militarily in Syria. The latest bugaboo: WMD. Haven’t we heard that someplace before? Say, ten years ago?

The latest to weigh in is Michael Singh of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who, in recent testimony to Congress, waxed eloquent about the moral and humanitarian reasons for the United States to entangle itself in yet another Middle East war:

“In the Syrian civil war we see a confluence of moral imperative and strategic interest; where so often these impulses conflict, here they coincide. The moral case for action is clear—the United Nations has asserted that 70,000 civilians have been killed in Syria since March 2011, and almost four million, out of a population of twenty-two million, forced from their homes, about 1.2 million of whom have fled Syria entirely. These numbers overwhelm comprehension, yet still fail to convey the full extent of Syrians’ suffering.”

Syrians may indeed be suffering, but a great deal of the suffering is due to the predatory and repressive actions by the Syrian rebels themselves, increasingly dominated by the radical-extremist Al Nusra Front.

The Washington Post, to its everlasting credit, ran a scary piece by Liz Sly about the rebels in “liberated” (i.e., rebel-occupied) Syria, imposing Taliban-like laws and punishments. One man, typical of many others, was beaten with a metal pipe. Writes Sly, worth quoting at length:

The beating administered last month offered a vivid illustration of the extent to which the Syrian revolution has strayed from its roots as a largely spontaneous uprising against four decades of Assad family rule. After mutating last year into a full-scale war, it is moving toward what appears to be an organized effort to institute Islamic law in areas that have fallen under rebel control.

Building on the reputation they have earned in recent months as the rebellion’s most accomplished fighters, Islamist units are seeking to assert their authority over civilian life, imposing Islamic codes and punishments and administering day-to-day matters such as divorce, marriage and vehicle licensing.

Numerous Islamist groups are involved, representing a wide spectrum of views. But, increasingly, the dominant role is falling to Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as the al-Nusra Front. The group has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States for suspected ties to al-Qaeda but is widely respected by many ordinary Syrians for its battlefield prowess and the assistance it has provided to needy civilians.

Across the northeastern provinces of Deir al-Zour and Raqqah, where the rebels have been making rapid advances in recent weeks, Jabhat al-Nusra has taken the lead both in the fighting and in setting out to replace toppled administrations. It has assumed control of bakeries and the distribution of flour and fuel, and in some instances it has sparked tensions with local fighters by trying to stop people from smoking in the streets.

But Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who must be hurting bad now that the third member of their Holy Trinity, Joe Lieberman, is gone, are demanding that Obama jump into the fray. The two cited unsubstantiated reports that either Syria or the rebels had used chemical weapons, echoing (on the tenth anniversary of the criminally misguided invasion of Iraq) charges of WMD. According to The Washington Times:

“President Obama has said that the use of weapons of mass destruction by Bashar Assad is a ‘red line’ for him that ‘will have consequences,’” they said. “If today’s reports are substantiated, the president’s red line has been crossed, and we would urge him to take immediate action to impose the consequences he has promised.”

McCain and Graham were backed by Dianne Feinstein and many others in Congress, adding to the pressure on the president. “This is highly classified and we have been advised to be careful with what we say,” said Feinstein, even though there were plenty of reports that no WMD had been used. The New York Times, for instance, reported:

But neither side presented clear documentation, and two American officials said there was no evidence to suggest that any chemical weapons had been used. A Defense Department official said the claim should be treated with caution, if not outright skepticism.

Can this really be happening again? A phony WMD war in the Middle East? Answer: yes.

Read Robert Dreyfuss on negotiations with Iran and how Barack Obama’s Israel trip could affect them.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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