Breathing in Syria

From all the news today it is looking increasingly like some sort of military attack by the West on Syria, supported by many Arab states,  is going to take place.  We hope that the planners know as much about chemical weapons destruction as the folks at CBRNe [Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear explosives] do.  They would even be in favor of destroying the Syrian caches if it could be done without an increase in the danger.

[Bombing will not simply destroy the chemicals] …what is more likely is that the Syrians get a ‘sub-optimal chemical release,’ ie Western activity releases an enormous plume which affects many square kilometres. Chemical agents are not so easily destroyed, the work of the Chemical Munitions Agency (CMA) in the US and the demilitarisation work in Russia shows that this is a lengthy process that needs careful calculation, not a paveway. Again, the flip answer is to say, ‘So what? They shouldn’t have had them in the first place!’ I am not sure that that defence stacks up in a court of law. It could easily be argued that the US, should they be the ones to pull the trigger, are the ones responsible for the release of chemical agent all over Syria – a decision that will not play well in the Middle East, Russia and in the International Court of Human Rights

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Over at the Long War Journal, not a notably pacifist outfit, “A few more questions before we start bombing Syria, are posted.

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Juan Cole, as usual, raises relevant concerns:

It is not clear what an American intervention would achieve. It is likely that Washington will conduct a limited punitive operation, perhaps hitting regime buildings with Tomahawk missiles. The latter would avoid the regime’s sophisticated anti-aircraft systems, which might be able to fell an F-18 fighter jet.

It should be obvious, however, that any such strike would be a form of retaliation for President al-Assad’s flouting of international law. It would not actually protect Syrians from their government, and it would be unlikely to alter the course of the civil war.

Such a strike would carry with it some dangers for the US. It is not impossible that the Baath would respond by targeting US government facilities or businesses in the region. It is also possible that it would target Israel in revenge. An American strike might bring the Iranian Revolutionary Guards into Syria in greater forces.

But it is also possible that the regime will hunker down and concentrate on surviving its domestic challenge.

He does not think it likely that the rebels set off the chem-weapons in their own neighborhood.

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Jonathan Landis, a long time, respected student of Syria, thinks something should be done, but stay out of along-term engagement.

The US must respond to the use of chemical weapons in a forceful manner, but should not launch a broader intervention in Syria.

Preserving the widely respected international norm banning the use of chemical weapons is a clear interest of the US and international community.

The US, however, should avoid getting sucked into the Syrian Civil War. Thus, it should punish Assad with enough force to deter future use of chemical weapons, but without using so much force that it gets drawn into an open-ended conflict.

… Punitive measures taken against the regime following the use of chemical weapons should be conducted with the purpose of deterring the future use of chemical weapons—not to change the balance of power in favor of the rebels.

This is said with full recognition of the terrible atrocities and killing taking place within Syria, including the many crimes of the regime. The Assad regime is not an entity to be protected or defended, but destroying it today may throw the country into greater chaos and suffering and pull the U.S. into a morass that lacks any visible solution.

Long Term Goal of a Power-Sharing Agreement

The US should strive to persuade all parties to reach a power-sharing agreement to end the war…

And The Nation has a great collection of opinion by liberal hawks and doves and one not-so-liberal Andrew Bacevich whom all liberals should always read.

Chemical Weapons: Who Has Them? Who Makes Them? And How Deadly Are They?

Pretty good interview with Jim Walsh of MIT at Boston NPR