Nausea, twitching, and convulsions. Severely dilated pupils. Red, tearing eyes. Uncontrollable drooling and runny nose. These are the symptoms of a GB nerve agent attack that I learned at Army Basic Training. I used to have nightmares about the stuff, and they were triggered by every NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) exercise in protective gear. Via CNN, I now get to see my nightmares about contamination and decontamination come to brutal life in Syria. Watching the video above, I can no longer tolerate concern quotes in headlines about this event. What you are seeing here is the aftermath of a regime attack, and anyone who questions that fact is selling you a bridge.
It is not a secret that Syria has had a WMD program for decades and holds large stockpiles of chemical agents. Nor was this attack exactly a surprise, as the timeline of chemical warfare in Syria goes all the way back to July of last year, fifteen months into the conflict. American intelligence agencies first warned that Syria was loading chemical weapons into bombs in early December. Despite denials by the regime that these weapons would be used, by the end of that month the first YouTube videos were posted showing Syrian patients suffering what appear to be the effects of sarin gas (extremely disturbing example here). That same month, the head of Assad’s military police defected to Turkey, where he charged the regime with using sarin gas in Homs. By April, European, American, and Israeli intelligence agencies were reporting the regime had used chemical weapons more than once since December.
Assad’s apologists ask what possible motive Assad could have to use these weapons when he is apparently winning. But he is winning precisely because he has been using chemical weapons. They ask what his motive could be, and the answer is that Bashar al-Assad used sarin on a resisting neighborhood because he thought he could get away with it. Judging by opinion polls, he appears to be correct.
But as an experiment in non-intervention, Syria has provided a perfect contrast to Libya. The country is broken, unable to feed itself. There are already more than 100,000 dead, a number which can easily double, and already at least six times as large as the United Nations’ estimated death toll in Libya. Millions of refugees are already displaced. Time, and a monopoly on heavy weapons, have been on Assad’s side. As long as the war dragged on, he could keep on using sarin gas for small attacks and then for larger-scale extermination of whole neighborhoods. Syria’s civil war has quietly graduated to a new level of horror.
We have seen this before: as the Wermacht advanced across Eastern Europe in World War II, SS units began rounding up Jews and shooting them en masse atop burial trenches. Eventually, the Nazis began forcing mass migration to sites where the extinction could be rendered in a more efficient, industrialized manner using poison gas. That transition was put in motion at the top, not by local commanders. A similar transition has taken place in Syria: Ghouta is exactly the sort of built-up urban area where gas is more effective than explosive shells; sarin is also more convenient and less destructive of property than gun battles. What is not for Assad to like about it?
Without any response from the international community, Syrian rebels may have begun fighting back with improvised chemical weapons, namely chlorine gas. But opposition forces have only rudimentary delivery systems and none of the heavy artillery or aircraft necessary to drop large amounts of chemical agents on a neighborhood. The symptoms of chlorine gas are also different from sarin; none of the videos from Ghouta show the kind of eczema-like blisters associated with chlorine.
The idea that rebels have matched the known sarin production and delivery capacity of Assad’s regime is actually ludicrous, on a level with 9/11 “truthers” and Holocaust denialists. Indeed, at World Net Daily we find Jerome Corsi (of Obama birth certificate infamy) citing professional charlatan Walid Shoebat to suggest the whole thing is a false-flag attack. The attack on Ghouta is being labeled as a new Gulf of Tonkin incident by people who would rather believe in a conspiracy than admit their favorite anti-American dictator is just an evil bastard. Their “evidence” is nothing more than their desire to disbelieve.
Perhaps the greatest damage that Bush and Cheney did to international security was to make this moment possible. By crying wolf in 2003, they destroyed the credibility of the United States and its allies to identify and respond to actual, real, not-imaginary WMD attacks. Worse, I see the media over-compensating for its failures in 2003. The New York Times, which breathlessly ran Judith Miller’s yellowcake uranium forgery, runs the headline: “Images of Death in Syria, but No Proof of Chemical Attack.” What do they imagine killed these people in this way? Death rays from Mars, perhaps?
That gray smoke on the Damascus skyline is not a flag, it is a giant bug bomb going off, and it signals that Assad is snuffing out human beings like insects. Maybe you are okay with genocide; I am not. It is one thing to argue how the United States should respond, but I don’t want to live in a country that has gone back to shrugging its shoulders the way Ronald Reagan did when Saddam gassed the Kurds. We have already seen that Syria has not been improved by the absence of intervention. If it is a shorter war you want, then sarin might deliver it, but at what price?