This Voice Of America article offers divergent points of view on the question of Syria’s chemical weapons. Given their history as deterrent to Israel’s unacknowledged nuclear force, Syrian stockpiles were never designed for use against Syrian cities. But the chances of that happening go up with each day that Assad’s position deteriorates. We simply don’t know what his response to defeat will be:
But Joseph Holliday, former army intelligence officer and now senior analyst at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, said he could see President Assad using chemical weapons against his people.
“Clearly, the chances of that happening increase as the Assad regime nears end game,” said Holliday. “Right now our deterrence, our ‘red line’ is based really on the psychology of Bashar al-Assad at this point — that he won’t, he wouldn’t dare to use them because that would mean committing suicide. But if at some point in the future, if the rebel gains continue, and he’s backed into a corner, Bashar may decide that he’s dead either way and the risks of miscalculation increase.”
Meanwhile, rebel-held areas continue to show remarkable resiliency, somehow maintaining civil order and services amid the conflict. But the absence of American firepower, money, and aid leaves a profound vacuum that Islamist elements are only too happy to fill:
Halab al-Shabaa Brigade, one of the larger FSA units under the military council in Aleppo, is considering disbanding. The unit commander, a moderate, told me he knew that the extremist militant group Jabhat al-Nusra had approached some of his men. Jabhat al-Nusra is well-financed: Many of its cells have more food and weapons than recruits, and they are approaching Syrians to expand. Their obvious advantage is that they can provide what more moderate groups and civilian councils cannot: salaries and weapons.
Syria’s uprising has proven three times as deadly as Libya’s. After a nearly two-year experiment in nonintervention, the regime’s downfall shows every sign of turning out much the bloodier for American (and global) inaction. If Assad left the country tomorrow, the United States would have to prop up whatever replaces him just to keep things from collapsing altogether, and it’s not clear that assets are in place to make even that much happen.