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Monday, April 29, 2013

Other Echoes of Iraq in NATO response to WMD in Syria

“I will kill them all with chemical weapons. Who is going to say anything? The international community? F*ck them!”
- Al Majid, Saddam Hussein's Kurdish genocide point man | 26 May 1987
Ever since US President Barack Obama issued his first warning to the Syrian government that the use of chemical weapons in the civil war was a "red-line" that might provoke a US military response, and even more so after reported use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime against the opposition in December, March and April, there have been many commentators that have heard echoes of US President George Bush's false charges that Saddam Hussein was harboring chemical weapons, the excuse what was used to justify an imperialist war against Iraq, in the current discussion of Syria and chemical weapons.

This report from the NY Times reflects that perspective:
The White House cited the Iraq war to justify its wariness of taking action against another Arab country on the basis of incomplete or potentially inaccurate assessments of its weapons of mass destruction. The press secretary, Jay Carney, said the White House would “look at the past for guidance when it comes to the need to be very serious about gathering all the facts, establishing chain of custody, linking evidence of the use of chemical weapons to specific incidents and actions taken by the regime.”
Why this is a false comparison

There are two very fundamental errors made by almost everyone making this comparison. 1) Saddam Hussein was charged with possession of chemical weapons, whereas Bashar al-Assad is being charge with using them to kill Syrians in the present moment. 2) In the past two years Bashar al-Assad has killed tens of thousands of Syrian civilians with many other weapons of mass destruction including cluster bombs, artillery bombardment, air strikes, helicopter gunships and ballistic missiles, there was no such human slaughter taking place when Bush and company were making their charges of simple possession.

To make this simplistic comparison. i.e. false charges of WMD in Iraq circa 2003 and questionable charges of WMD in Syria now, without considering these two factors, means comparing apples to oranges. It means talking utter nonsense while mass murder is taking place.

The fact that the charge here is use and not possession, that it is alleged that people have been murdered by the Assad regime with chemical weapons at a time when he is clearly on a mass murder spree, means that to raise Bush's false charges against Hussein as a warning against doing anything to stop the ongoing slaughter in Syria is, in fact, to support that slaughter.

Using this false comparison the international "community" has danced around Assad's use of chemical weapons and even after four attacks killing scores of people and a mountain of other evidence, Obama in now saying that he wants to be absolutely, positively, sure that Assad has used chemical weapons before he declares that his red-line has been crossed. Since there is no serious question as to whether Assad is committing mass murder with just about everything else, this preoccupation with chemical weapons turns into something of a macabre fetish. Consider what we know already.

Evidence of Assad's Chemical Weapons Use

On Saturday, another of Assad's ex-generals has said he was ordered to use chemical weapons against the Free Syrian Army. The general, who foiled this ordered chemical attack and defected 15 March 2013, was interviewed by al Arabia:
A former army general from the chemical weapons branch, Zahir al-Sakit, said he was instructed to use chemical weapons during a regime battle with the FSA in the southwestern area of Hauran.
He is the second defecting general to claim that he had been ordered to use chemical weapons. On Christmas day last year, Maj. Gen. Abdul Aziz Jassem al-Shallal, at the time the highest ranking member of Assad's army to defect, did so and he brought with him a gift for the revolution, confirmation that the Syrian Army did use chemical weapons in Homs earlier in December 2012.

We are not talking about some shadowy "Curveball" here. These are officers with a history in the SAA, people the press can interview and their testimony is backed up by a lot of other evidence.

This type of testimony, which is generally neglected, is extremely important because unlike soil samples, videos of victims or even doctor's diagnoses, it establishes firmly who is using chemical weapons in Syria.

Timeline of Syrian Chemical Attacks

In early December 2012 the FSA started reporting the finding of disturbing amounts of chemical warfare suites and gas masks in the military depots they were seizing.

Also the first week of December, US intelligence reported that Assad had been moving his chemical weapons around and even loading sarin gas into bombs. The White House reissued Obama's "red-line" warning but dropped the prohibition against the "movement" of "a whole bunch of chemical weapons."

22 December 2012 | The first use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime against its own people took place in Homs. Seven people were killed when a poisonous gas was sprayed in the rebel-held al-Bayyada neighborhood. This use was confirmed by video tapes, witness and doctor testimony and the general who defected days later because he saw things were going where he couldn't. Obama pretended not to see this first crossing of his red-line even while, in secret, his own State department was saying there was a "compelling case" that Assad's military forces had used a deadly form of poison gas. In public the White House was saying it had concluded that Assad had not used chemical weapons in Homs.

19 March 2013 | Two attacks appear to have taken place on this day; in Khan al-Assal, a village west of Aleppo and in Ateibeh, a village outside of Damascus. There has been a lot of video testimony and evidence posted about the attack in Ateibeh. For example a man in a clinic bed reported:
“Missiles came and they exploded, and they discharged something like water, but it was dark. It emitted a very foul smell.”
Ateibeh is an area that had already been heavily bombed by the regime in the past two years, an unknown number were killed by chemicals in this attack.

The attack on Khan al-Assal, southwest of Aleppo was a chlorine smelling gas according to this report. Naturally the Assad regime blamed the rebels. Time reported:
The attack killed 31 people, including 10 soldiers, and wounded scores more. In the immediate aftermath, the Syrian government and the opposition traded accusations. The government claimed that “terrorists,” its term for the rebels that have been fighting the regime for two years, had fired a “missile containing a chemical substance” at the village of Khan al-Asal in retaliation for their support of the government. Kasem Saad Eddine, spokesperson for the opposition military council of Aleppo, accused the government of attacking its own people in order to smear the opposition.
13 April 2013 | Two women and two children died and 16 others affected after two gas bombs where dropped from an army helicopter in Sheik Maqsoud, Aleppo. While the death toll from this most recent use of chemicals was small, it represented a major escalations of the "In your face factor" because no one but the government is flying helicopters in Syria. It also represents the introduction of a new delivery system. This also produced a lot of video evidence including this, this and this.

Now there is also a bit of physical evident if Times of London reports that soil samples smuggled out of Syria tested positive for sarin are true. The tests were done by UK government scientists at Porton Down after they were retrieve through a MI6 convert mission.

Update 29 April 2013 | Reports of a new possible chemical attack are coming in no sooner than this blog is published. Activists have reported what appears to be a chemical attack in Saraqib, an opposition town in Idlib province. Some of the victims are being treated in Turkey. The cannisters dropped appear to be the same type dropped in Sheikh Maghsoud, Aleppo. EAWorldView has excellent running coverage on this.

Assad Regime's response to the Charges

There are probably more facts in dispute in this conflict than there are combatants. So when looking at the various stories or accounts that come daily with every incident, it is important to consider the source and to understand that the Assad regime is not an honest source, the Assad regime is a gangster regime.

When it comes to owning up to what could most charitably be called "short-comings", the Assad regime deals with its many internal "My Lai massacres" with smiling denial. It is the gangster response. It is "I don't know nothing. I ain't done nothing. I was home with the flu." It is Al Capone, sitting in the barber's chair telling all the reporters how he abhors violence.

So it should surprise no one that Assad's information minister Omran Ahed al-Zouabi was quick to respond to these new charges of chemical weapons use. On 26 April 2013 he told RT:
“First of all, I want to confirm that statements by the US Secretary of State and British government are inconsistent with reality and a barefaced lie, I want to stress one more time that Syria would never use it - not only because of its adherence to the international law and rules of leading war, but because of humanitarian and moral issues.”
So if you believe that the Assad regime has acted in a humanitarian and moral manner to this point, you are a fool, but at least your mind will be at ease as to the looming possibilities of a "Halabja" in Syria's future.

Those inclined to give this denial any credit should consider also:
Syria denies using Scuds against rebels13 Dec 2012rebuttal
Syria denies using cluster bombs15 Oct 2012rebuttal
Syria denies Taramseh village 'massacre'15 Jul 2013rebuttal
Syria denies UN claims of government forces massacre15 Jul 2012rebuttal
Syria denies it was behind attack that killed 9027 May 2012rebuttal
Syrian government denies reports of army shelling city of Homs4 Feb 2012rebuttal
Syria Denies Navy Shelling on al-Ramel al-Janoubi Neighborhood15 Aug 2011rebuttal
Syria Denies News on Discovery of Mass Grave in Daraa17 May 2011rebuttal

Al Jazeera English did the Assad regime a real kindness when it truncated the regime's response with the angry "a bold-face lie" phrase because as soon as you include the "we would never do nothing like that" part, the gangster smile starts to show through.

What Standards should be Applied to the Evidence?

The evident required for action in Syria should be a lot less than was required in Iraq because people are being murdered right now. By looking for a lawyer's "beyond a reasonable doubt" level of proof, Obama is giving Assad the benefit of the doubt and setting conditions so strict that they aren't likely to be met before many more people are murdered. It is the wrong standard of proof. The standard of proof, the level of certainty we should demand with regards to Assad's use of chemical weapons must necessarily be much lower than that applied to Hussein's possession of chemical weapons.

An analogy may help clarify why. If the police suspect that someone has an illegal weapon, it is entirely right and proper to demand that they first present their case to a judge and get a search warrant before they are allowed to act on their suspicions. On the other hand, if there is an active shooter taking people down, it would be absurd, even criminal, to demand that the police visit a judge and get his approval before they intervene to save lives.

The popular Iraq/Syria WMD Analogy is the Wrong One

The popular comparison being made between NATO charges against Iraq in the run up to war and Syria now is a completely false one but if we go back a little further in history we can make an apple to apple comparison between Iraq then and Syria now.

We should be comparing the Western response to Assad's use of chemical weapons against his own people now to the Western response when Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against his own people in 1983-1989. In that case Hussein killed tens of thousands with chemical weapons while the West looked on and did nothing.

So far, that is the analogy that rings true today.

The UN & US response to Iraq's use of chemical weapons

Iraq, under the fascist Baath Party dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, used chemical weapons on a number of occasions in the 1980's both in its long war against Iran and as part of a program of genocide against the Iraqi Kurdish minority.

Between 1983 and 1988 Iraq made at least 14 chemical attacks that took tens of thousands of Iranian and Kurdish lives. Mustard gas was used in almost every attack and it was sometimes supplemented with Tabun or a nerve agent.

One of the biggest attacks came on 15 March 1988, near the end of the Iran-Iraq War, against the Kurdish town of Halabja. First sarin was used and then mustard. 5,000 were slaughtered. We know that it was part of a program of genocide because of Iraqi records that were liberated during the 1991 Kurdish uprising:
On 3 June 1987 the Iraqi proconsul signed a personal directive, numbered 28/3650, declaring a zone that contained over a thousand Kurdish villages to be a prohibited area, from which all human and animal life was to be eradicated. “It is totally prohibited for any foodstuffs or persons or machinery to reach the villages that have been banned for security reasons,” the directive stated.
This gas attack was just one small part of Hussein's genocide against the Kurds which took 400,000 lives in 15 years. Kendal Nezan remembered what happened in Halabja in Le Monde diplomatique, 1998:
When our "friend" Saddam was gassing the Kurds

Ten years ago, the systematic gassing of the Kurdish population of northern Iraq had far less impact on America. Only six months after the slaughter at Halabja, the White House lent Saddam Hussein another billion dollars. And in 1991, at the end of the Gulf war, US troops stood idly by while Saddam’s presidential guard ruthlessly suppressed the popular uprising by the Kurds for which the American president had himself called.

The town of Halabja, with 60,000 inhabitants, lies on the southern fringe of Iraqi Kurdistan, a few miles from the border with Iran. On 15 March 1988 it fell to the Peshmerga resistance fighters of Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, supported by Iranian revolutionary guards.

The next morning Iraqi bombers appeared out of a clear blue sky. The people of Halabja were used to the successive attacks and counter-attacks of the Iraq-Iran war that had ravaged the region since September 1980. They thought they were in for the usual reprisal raid. Those who had time huddled in makeshift shelters. The rest were taken by surprise. Wave after wave of Iraqi Migs and Mirages dropped chemical bombs on the unsuspecting inhabitants. The town was engulfed in a sickly stench like rotten apples. The bombing stopped at nightfall and it began to rain hard. Iraqi troops had already destroyed the local power station, so the survivors began to search the mud with torches for the dead bodies of their loved ones.

The scene that greeted them in the morning defied description. The streets were strewn with corpses. People had been killed instantaneously by chemicals in the midst of the ordinary acts of everyday life. Babies still sucked their mothers’ breasts. Children held their parents’ hands, frozen to the spot like a still from a motion picture. In the space of a few hours 5,000 people had died. The 3,200 who no longer had families were buried in a mass grave. More...
Nezan then goes on to tell us how the Iraqi dictator was:
Protected by the West

At that time the regime was not worried about international reaction. In the recording of the meeting of 26 May 1987, Proconsul Al Majid declares: “I will kill them all with chemical weapons. Who is going to say anything? The international community? Fuck them!” His language may be coarse, but the cynicism of the butcher of Kurdistan, later promoted governor of Kuwait and subsequently minister of defence, was fully justified.

Iraq was then seen as a secular bulwark against the Islamic regime in Teheran. It had the support of East and West and of the whole Arab world except Syria. All the Western countries were supplying it with arms and funds. France was particularly zealous in this respect. Not content with selling Mirages and helicopters to Iraq, it even lent the regime Super Etendard aircraft in the middle of its war with Iran. Germany supplied Baghdad with a large part of the technology required for the production of chemical weapons.
Just as is happening now, there was a lot of controversy, the UN was dispatched to the scene, but nothing was really done:
Despite the enormous public outrage at the gas attack on Halabja, France, which is a depositary of the Geneva Convention of 1925, confined itself to an enigmatic communiqué condemning the use of chemical weapons anywhere in the world. The UN dispatched Colonel Dominguez, a Spanish military expert, to the scene. In a report published on 26 April 1988, he confined himself to recording that chemical weapons had been used once again both in Iran and in Iraq and that the number of civilian victims was increasing. On the same day the UN Secretary-General stated that, with respect to both the weapons themselves and those who were using them, it was difficult to determine the nationalities involved.

Clearly, Iraq’s powerful allies did not want Baghdad condemned. In August 1988 the United Nations Sub-Committee on Human Rights voted by 11 votes to 8 not to condemn Iraq for human rights violations. Only the Scandinavian countries, Australia and Canada, together with bodies like the European Parliament and the Socialist International, saved their honour by clearly condemning Iraq.
In point of fact, the United States was involved in a partnership with Saddam Hussein with regards to the manufacture and use of chemical weapons in this period. As reported here:
According to the Washington Post, the CIA began in 1984 secretly to give Iraq intelligence that Iraq uses to "calibrate" its mustard gas attacks on Iranian troops. In August, the CIA establishes a direct Washington-Baghdad intelligence link, and for 18 months, starting in early 1985, the CIA provided Iraq with "data from sensitive U.S. satellite reconnaissance photography...to assist Iraqi bombing raids." The Post’s source said that this data was essential to Iraq’s war effort.

The United States re-established full diplomatic ties with Iraq on 26 November, just over a year after Iraq’s first well-publicized CW use and only 8 months after the UN and U.S. reported that Iraq used CWs on Iranian troops.

In 1985 the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to put Iraq back on the State terrorism sponsorship list. After the bill’s passage, Shultz wrote to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Howard Berman, cited the U.S.’ "diplomatic dialogue on this and other sensitive issues," claimed that "Iraq has effectively distanced itself from international terrorism," and stated that if the U.S. found that Iraq supports groups practicing terrorism "we would promptly return Iraq to the list." Rep. Berman dropped the bill and explicitly cited Shultz’s assurances.
Four years later, the US response to the Halabja massacre was no better:
In May, two months after the Halabja assault, Peter Burleigh, Assistant Secretary of State in charge of northern Gulf affairs, encouraged US-Iraqi corporate cooperation at a symposium hosted by the U.S.-Iraq Business Forum. The U.S.-Iraq Business Forum had strong (albeit unofficial) ties to the Iraqi government.

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee sent a team to Turkey to speak to Iraqi Kurdish refugees and assess reports that Iraq "was using chemical weapons on its Kurdish population." This report reaffirmed that between 1984 and 1988 "Iraq repeatedly and effectively used poison gas on Iran," the UN missions’ findings, and the chemical attack on Halabja that left an estimated 4,000 people dead.

Following the Halabja attack and Iraq’s August CW offensive against Iraqi Kurds, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed on 8 September the "Prevention of Genocide Act of 1988" the day after it is introduced. The act cuts off from Iraq U.S. loans, military and non-military assistance, credits, credit guarantees, items subject to export controls, and U.S. imports of Iraqi oil.

Immediately after the bill’s passage the Reagan Administration announced its opposition to the bill, and SD spokesman Charles Redman called the bill "premature". The Administration works with House opponents to a House companion bill, and after numerous legislation compromises and end-of-session haggling, the Senate bill died "on the last day of the legislative session".

According to a 15 September news report, Reagan Administration officials stated that the U.S. intercepted Iraqi military communications marking Iraq’s CW attacks on Kurds.

U.S. intelligence reported in 1991 that the U.S. helicopters sold to Iraq in 1983 were used in 1988 to spray Kurds with chemicals.

The United Nation's failure to do anything about Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons use is informative for the current crisis:
Although the UN's expert mission concluded in March 1986 that Iraq used chemical weapons on Iranian troops, SCR 582 (1986) symmetrically noted "that both the Islamic Republic of Iran and Iraq are parties to the Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous and Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare signed at Geneva on 7 June 1925" and "deplores...in particular the use of chemical weapons contrary to obligations under the 1925 Protocol". Resolution 588 (1986) did not mention chemical weapons. In 20 July 1987, SCR 598 again deplored "in particular the use chemical weapons contrary to obligations of the 1925 Protocol", but does not elaborate.
During the following years, the UNSC continued to be "dismayed" by chemical weapons' continued use and the "more intensive scale". They passed more resolutions that "condemns vigorously the continued use of chemical weapons" and "expects both sides to refrain from the future use of chemical weapons". By August of 1988 the UNSC was "deeply dismayed" by the "continued use of chemical weapons" and that "such use against Iranians has become more intense and frequent". Because of Western vetoes, the UNSC could never clearly say it was Hussein that was behind the chemical weapons use.
The Security Council could only condemn Iraq by name for using chemical weapons through non-binding Presidential statements, over which permanent members of the Security Council do not have an individual veto. On 21 March 1986, the Security Council President, making a "declaration" and "speaking on behalf of the Security Council," stated that the Council members are "profoundly concerned by the unanimous conclusion of the specialists that chemical weapons on many occasions have been used by Iraqi forces against Iranian troops...[and] the members of the Council strongly condemn this continued use of chemical weapons in clear violation of the Geneva Protocol of 1925 which prohibits the use in war of chemical weapons". The US voted against the issuance of this statement, and the UK, Australia, France and Denmark abstained. However, the concurring votes of the other ten members of the Security Council ensured that this statement constituted the first criticism of Iraq by the Security Council.
At the time, the US and a number of other great powers were supporting Saddam Hussein so there was nothing done about his WMD until be became a problem much later. He didn't have any WMD by then but that didn't matter; he had an ugly reputation for using them.

Even if the current UN investigative mission can make it to Syria and make an investigation, which looks very iffy at this point, it is highly unlikely that the United Nations will actually do anything.

The difference will be that this time, with Syria, Russia will play the bad guy with the veto.

Why would Assad use Chemical Weapons?

From The Independent, Robert Fisk has this report on Sunday:
Syria and sarin gas: US claims have a very familiar ring
Reports of the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons are part of a retold drama riddled with plot-holes

Is there any way of escaping the theatre of chemical weapons?...In any normal society the red lights would now be flashing, especially in the world's newsrooms. But no. We scribes remind the world that Obama said the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a "game changer" – at least Americans admit it is a game – and our reports confirm what no one has actually confirmed. Chemical arms used. In two Canadian TV studios, I am approached by producers brandishing the same headline. I tell them that on air I shall trash the "evidence" – and suddenly the story is deleted from both programmes. Not because they don't want to use it – they will later – but because they don't want anyone suggesting it might be a load of old cobblers.

CNN has no such inhibitions. Their reporter in Amman is asked what is known about the use of chemical weapons by Syria and replies: "Not as much as the world would want to know … the psyche of the Assad regime …." But has anyone tried? Or simply asked an obvious question, posed to me by a Syrian intelligence man in Damascus last week: if Syria can cause infinitely worse damage with its MiG bombers (which it does) why would it want to use chemicals? More...

The Syrian intelligence man's question deserves an answer and that answer goes to the heart of Bashar al-Assad's repression strategy and the role chemical weapons are starting to play in it. Bashar learned well from his father, both in strengths and mistakes.

He learn to rule with an iron fist, but he also learn to finesse it a little better. Halef paid a heavy political price when he exterminated ~18,000 "terrorist" in Homs in a few weeks but Bashar knows better how to boil live frogs in an open pot. He has already killed 3 of 4 times as many by turning up the heat slowly.

He started with snipers targeting peaceful protesters and when that didn't clear the streets, he brought in the tanks.

His weak spot, militarily speaking, has been the ordinary foot soldier. Normally the infantry is the backbone of any army but Bashar's tended to be a little too defection prone whenever they were thrown into battle. Thus we have seen many times in this civil war, the rookie mistake of sending in armor without supporting infantry. In the narrow streets of Homs and Hama, his tanks proved vulnerable even to rebels armed only with Molotov cocktails.

He has always had certain "elite" forces organized along sectarian lines that he could count on even to kill children with knives, no true gangster would leave home without them, but fortunately for us all, such thugs are a tiny minority.

So standoff tools have been his weapons of choice. The goals have been generalized destruction and murder with the aim of punishing any communities that would dare to rise against his rule and making life intolerable in any areas that his regime has been forced out of.

But the strategy has always been to ramp up the slaughter in a slow 'n steady way that would gain greater world acceptance than his father enjoyed. So far he has succeeded admirably. Now ~200 Syrian's a day are being slaughtered and the world doesn't give a fuck.

At first he relied mainly on long range artillery and tank fire. He introduced his air force very slowly, much like he is doing now with chemical weapons.

First there were a few reports of him using helicopters and Migs. They were denied but the reports continued as did the sporadic use of aircraft. As the media lost interest, the air strikes became more regular and wide spread. As regular air strikes against his own cities gained worldwide acceptance, he started upping the ordinances dropped from his planes, as cluster bombs, incendiaries, and barrel bombs were introduced.

As the opposition has gotten better at shooting down his aircraft, they have just worn out, or his air bases have fallen, he has relied on bigger and bigger ballistic missiles. Now the world has signaled its quiet acceptance for a government that fires Scuds at its own cities.

In spite of all this, he is still losing.

Chemical weapons are simply the next logical step in this escalation. Obama saw that too in August and tried to draw a "red-line" in the Syrian sand but Obama forgot about the danger of trying to bullshit a bullshitter.

Assad is testing him on this, and it was Obama himself that told him how with his "whole bunch of" underpass in the "red-line." However much sarin or other chemicals Assad has spread around in the four incidents reported since December nobody can yet argue that he has used "a whole bunch of chemical weapons," not when massacres on the scale of Halabja are considered.

He is introducing chemical weapons slowly, so the world can get used to them again. He may have only used four shells to create four deniable incidents. He may be diluting the poison to give contradictory results. What exactly is a whole bunch? Who can say really?

So to get back to the Intel guys rhetorical question, he is pushed to use chemical weapons in spite of the destruction cause by his Migs because his Migs are wearing out, or getting shot down, or as reported in one case, bombing Assad positions before bailing out over opposition held territory.

He will use chemical weapons because they are the perfect weapon for his type of warfare. He can easily kill large numbers of people and make whole cities uninhabitable and they can be delivered by rockets and artillery so few killers are needed and even they don't have to look at their handiwork.

He just needs to introduce them slowly so the world learns to accept it. In the long run he may make what Saddam Hussein did to the Kurds look like a walk in the park.

Don't Look for Anything to be Done Anytime Soon

In spite of the latest flurry of diplomacy around Assad's limited use of chemical weapons, after we have tolerated as many as a hundred thousand dead, two million driven from the country and more than six million driven from their homes, don't look for those that could put a stop to it, to do anything anytime soon. The NY Times reported on Saturday:
President Obama said Friday that he would respond “prudently” and “deliberately” to evidence that Syria had used chemical weapons, tamping down any expectations that he would take swift action after an American intelligence assessment that the Syrian government had used the chemical agent sarin on a small scale in the nation’s civil war.

“Knowing that potentially chemical weapons have been used inside of Syria doesn’t tell us when they were used, how they were used,” Mr. Obama told reporters in the Oval Office. “We have to act prudently. We have to make these assessments deliberately.”
British PM David Cameron is also counseling against doing anything rash, like rushing in to save lives:
[Cameron] repeated that Britain had no appetite to intervene militarily.

“I don’t want to see that, and I don’t think that is likely to happen,” he said. “But I think we can step up the pressure on the regime, work with our partners, work with the opposition in order to bring about the right outcome. But we need to go on gathering this evidence and also to send a very clear warning to the Syrian regime about these appalling actions.”
The French also sound like they aren't willing to do anything but talk:
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in an interview to the “Europe 1″ radio station that it is uncertain whether or not chemical weapons were used in Syria.

Fabius noted that even if there was use of chemical weapons, it doesn’t change a thing regarding the Western response policy and that the US and Russia are examining all options with France.
And from the Washington Post:
“This is going to be a long-term proposition. This is not going to be something that is solved easily overnight,” Obama said.

The definitive proof the White House is seeking is likely to be weeks or months in the offing, if it comes at all. A U.N. weapons team has been blocked from on-the-ground testing, and it is not clear what other scientific or intelligence information the White House would find persuasive.
RT gives us a sense of the resistance any UN team is likely to receive from Damascus:
Chemical inspection stalled: UN team can’t be trusted ‘politically’ without Russian experts – Syrian information minister

Without hard evidence, American accusations of chemical weapons use in Syria fall short of UN proof standards, says a UN chemical inspector. And in the way proposed, a probe would only result in an Iraqi scenario, the Syrian information minister told RT.
Russia has been Assad's biggest supplier of Scuds, cluster bombs and all the other ordinances with which he is killing his own people. for that reason many believe the proposed Russian experts can't be trusted "politically."

Foreign Policy summed up the situation this way:
His careful, incremental introduction of chemical weapons into the Syrian conflict has turned President Barack Obama's clear red line into an impressionist watercolor, undermining the credible threat of U.S. military intervention. Despite Obama's statement on Friday that "we've crossed a line," Assad knows that the United States does not want to be dragged into a Middle Eastern civil war and is attempting to call Obama's bluff.

The Syrian regime's subtle approach deliberately offers the Obama administration the option to remain quiet about chemical attacks and thereby avoid the obligation to make good on its threats. But even more worrying, Assad's limited use of chemical weapons is intended to desensitize the United States and the international community in order to facilitate a more comprehensive deployment in the future -- without triggering intervention.
At this point, there is no support for military intervention in Syria either from the US government or the people. It is much the same in the UK and the EU.

Back in August, when Barack Obama told Bashar al-Assad that the use of chemical weapons would be a "red-line" while he was already using Migs and cluster bombs and everything else, he gave Bashar a green light to continue his slaughter as he has.

Now Assad is calling Obama's bluff, he is testing the "red-line", but the self-proclaimed "cops of the world" are corrupt and work with the gangsters, so unless people around the world unite in demanding action, Assad is likely to get away with killing a lot more Syrians with poison gas and chemical weapons will have taken a giant step back towards acceptance as a tool of internal mass suppression.

Why did they think we would come to their aid?

This was the question raised on one of the Sunday morning talk shows when Clarissa Ward pointed out that the Syrian people are starting to become very bitter about the refusal of the world, particularly the United States, to come to their aid and do anything to stop their children from being slaughtered.

I think it is a fair question, so let me propose a few possible answers:

1) Because it is the right thing to do.

2) Because as long as most people can remember, we have been shouting "never again" to the hilltops.

3) Because Superman would never let so many people get slaughtered and not try to stop it, and we have spent billions peddling our culture and polishing our image around the world.

4) Because the United States has justified every war it has ever fought in the name of saving lives.

Syria may become the other side of the proof that it was naked self-interest and greed that have dictated when the United States went to war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Korea, even WWII.

If simple humanitarian interests aren't enough to demand that the Assad regime be stopped from any further use of chemical weapons, there is this:

The worldwide ban on the uses of chemical weapons was one of the great progressive victories to come out of the first Great War, and even though they have been superseded by nuclear weapons, which have yet to be placed under any such ban, the importance of continuing to enforce this prohibition against the use of chemical weapons cannot be underestimated. Especially when Assad is demonstrating that they can be used in the suppression of mass resistance to the state in a way that nuclear weapons never can.

That represents a strong reason why the governments of the world might like to re-introduce them as tools and it is exactly why the people of the world must demand that the ban against the use of chemical weapons be strictly enforced, especially in the case of Syria now.

If this is not done, the Assad lesson to oppressive states everywhere will be: "If your people get to bugging you too much, you can just spray them."

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