I saw the images and videos soon after the first reports came out. The images are surreal because the victims, a lot of them children, are either already dead or suffering – but there is no blood. People are trying to revive them by throwing water on the victims’ faces yet nothing seems to help. Some of the children just seem delusional or puppet-like.
Syrian opposition group claims that a chemical attack has killed as many as 1,300 people in government rocket strike that hit Damascus suburbs. The Assad government denies that allegations calling the rebels’ claim a ‘disillusioned and fabricated one whose objective is to deviate and mislead’ the UN mission (A UN team is currently in Syria to investigate the use of poison gas by both the Assad government and the rebels). However, if proven trues the chemical attack would not only be the worst chemical in this civil war but also since 1988 when Saddam Husein launched a chemical-weapon attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja. The Assad government has chemical weapons and has been suspected of using them before, though to a limited extent. This time, it seems very different.
Though most world leaders condemned the attack they failed to act and, for now, have only called for an investigation. The European Union urged the government to give the UN full access to all sites and reminded that the use of chemical weapons is “unacceptable.” The French government adopted a firmer stand. Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that, if proven true, the attack would be “an unprecedented atrocity”. Today he added that outside powers should respond “with force” if the use of chemical weapons is confirmed. He nonetheless ruled out sending troops on the ground and failed to say what “force” means. British Foreign Secretary William Hague meanwhile hopes that the massacre “will wake up some who have supported the Assad regime to realize its murderous and barbaric nature.”
Statements of the U.S. were rather bland, simply stating deep or grave concern. A year ago President Obama said that the US would respond forcefully to any chemical weapons use. However, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said that the side the U.S. chooses “must promote their interests and ours when the balance shifts in their favor. Today, they are not.” Obama is against any costly intervention in Syria, especially since the rebels do not represent Washington’s interests. Brushing off a question about his so-called “red line”, Obama said in an interview that, as the biggest power, it does “does not mean that we (the U.S.) have to get involved with everything immediately. We have to think through strategically what’s going to be in our long-term national interests.” I “like” the “we have to get involved with everything immediately” considering the conflict has already lasted two years…Nothing can be expected from the White House.
There was not much from the United Nations Security Council because members failed to agree on a common statement. While Security Council members are seeking “clarity” on the opposition’s claims, China and especially Russia, Assad’s strongest supporter, opposed a strong and formal statement. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appeared more willing to condemn the attack describing reports of the chemical attack as “very alarming and shocking.” He warned the Syrian regime that, if proven true, “such a crime against humanity should result in serious consequences for the perpetrator.”
The Arab League called on UN inspectors currently on the ground to investigate reports. Saudi Arabia in particular urged the UN Security Council to “assume responsibility… By convening immediately to reach a clear deterrent decision that ends the humanitarian tragedy.” Turkey criticized the UN’s reaction stating that “all red lines have been crossed but still the U.N. Security Council has not even been able to take a decision. This is a responsibility for the sides who still set these red lines and for all of us.” Turkey has been supporting the rebels in Syria for some time and says the “use of chemical weapons in Syria is evident from the footage coming from there.”
The Assad regime seems to be playing with the “international community.” Why would it launch a chemical-weapon attack when UN inspectors are in the country? Does the regime want to show what it is capable of while the UN Security Council cannot even agree on a common statement? Assad is testing the West, showing that he has more than one trick up his sleeve. In recent weeks, successes and advances against the rebels have boosted his confidence. The Obama administration remains unwilling to act and ignores the “red line.” While the chemical attack will be a test for Washington, I doubt it will a game change. The White House’s strategy since the beginning of the conflict has been passivity. France, the UK and Turkey may take small steps but how much can they actually do?
In any case, western governments are responsible of failing to act. Whether this is a chemical weapon attack or not, too many people have already died.