David Ignatius conveys the frustration of the Syrian opposition:
Gen. Salim Idriss, the commander of rebel forces in Syria, complained late Tuesday that President Obama’s desire “to wait and wait for more evidence” that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons is encouraging their continued use — and that these attacks will only stop if the United States and its allies impose a no-fly zone [bold mine-DL].
This is what you would expect members of the Syrian opposition to say, but do these claims make any sense? Why would Assad and his allies confirm suspicions of small-scale sarin use by using chemical weapons again and again? Even if regime forces “get away with” this small-scale use, the international outcry has probably made repeated use of chemical weapons in the future an unacceptable risk for Assad. Suppose that the administration endorsed interventionist demands for direct military action. A no-fly zone isn’t going to prevent the regime from using artillery, and even a sustained air campaign against regime forces wouldn’t be able to stop all attacks before they happen. Attacks by regime forces will stop only when they cease to have a reason to fight the opposition, and that could be months or years away even if there were direct military intervention.
Isn’t it much more likely that Assad will decide to use chemical weapons on a large scale once U.S. bombs begin dropping? Once Assad realizes that he won’t survive anyway, what is his incentive to refrain from using these weapons? If the purpose of U.S. warnings about Syrian chemical weapons use was to prevent their use, how does it make sense to take military action that would make use of chemical weapons even more likely to happen? Of course, it doesn’t make sense, but the opposition will understandably use any argument available to push the U.S. to intervene in the conflict. If the U.S. doesn’t want Syrian chemical weapons used on a large scale or seized by dangerous groups, it shouldn’t take actions intended to collapse the regime. If chemical weapons are just a pretext for war, as they clearly are for so many interventionists, we can stop pretending otherwise.