|And Nothing Really Changes||
16 April 2018
Cogito Ergo Non Serviam
Friday night, the US. UK and France loosed 105 missiles at three sites in Syria that intelligence said were part of the Assad regime's chemical weapons infrastructure. The reason given was that these western powers wanted to deter future use of chemical weapons by Damascus. President Trump went so far as to state "mission accomplished" in one of his numerous tweets. In fact, the bombing was largely a public relations exercise for all involved, including the Russians and the Syrian government.
The principle here is that chemical weapons are against the rules of war, and therefore, their use constitutes a war crime that must be punished and which, if possible, must be prevented. Despite the claims of the Assad regime and the Russian government, it is clear that sarin and chlorine bombs fell on Douma, a rebel stronghold not far from Damascus. The symptoms of the victims matched those of nerve agent victims, and witnesses said the 500 or so people who turned up at medical centers for help smelled strongly of bleach.
Under agreement negotiated during the Obama administration, the Syrian chemical weapons supplies were supposed to be destroyed, and a lot of them were. Syria acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention, and Russia was part of the deal, effectively acting as Syria's guarantor. Chlorine, of course, is a dual use substance, both as a bleach and as a poison, so it falls outside the scope of the deal. Sarin and other nerve agents are covered.
The bombing by the three western powers hit a research center, a storage facility and a production facility. Judging from the remarks from all sides, they were destroyed. At the same time, one is quite certain that the Syrian government has other facilities where it can produce chlorine (electrolysis of a solution of table salt will do it). Further a defector from the Assad regime who worked in chemical weapons development stated that the core of the program was not hit. In other words, Damascus still has the capacity to use chemical weapons.
Of course, having the weapons and having the will to use them are distinct. By one count, the Syrian government has used chemical weapons on 34 different occasions since the civil war began. The will is clearly there, and the attack Friday is unlikely to have altered it. Simply, the strike was not big enough to achieve that. Friday's bombing will have the same effect the 59 Tomahawk missiles Mr. Trump fired at a Syrian airbase last year. It may, at best, quiet things down for a time.
Meanwhile, Bashar al-Assad remains in power, his army is advancing against the rebel forces, and he seems to be on the verge of securing his position through victory on the battlefield. The armed resistance will continue, but he is in no danger of having to return to ophthalmology to make a living.
That said, the attack has underscored just how much he depends on Russian goodwill. Were it not for Mr. Putin sending Russian troops in the first place, the Arab Spring might have toppled the regime. And it was only the clear commitment of Russia to his cause that prevented Friday's attack from being a precursor to regime change.
It's a win for everyone. The western powers have stood up for the principle that chemical weapons are wrong. President Assad has stood his ground against them. And Mr. Putin has ensured that Friday's attack accomplished small tactical objectives at most. Now, everyone can go back to what they were doing before, which was ignoring the plight of the Syrian people.
© Copyright 2018 by The Kensington Review, Jeff Myhre, PhD, Editor. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written consent. Produced using Ubuntu Linux.