The Weak Evidence for Chemical Weapons Use in Syria
Jeffrey Lewis reviews the evidence of chemical weapons use in Syria and finds it lacking:
The conventional wisdom seems to be that Syria used “small scale” chemical agents to test Western resolve. This is the sort of thing that sounds great over coffee at the Brookings Institution — you can be a sober voice for restraint without giving Bashar al-Assad the benefit of the doubt. But without more evidence than has been made public, the correct judgment is that we do not know whether chemical weapons have been used or not [bold mine-DL].
I actually think the Obama administration has handled restating the red line reasonably well — though no one reported it correctly.
Whether or not one agrees that Obama’s statements on the subject have been reasonably good ones (George Will approves of Obama’s caution, but not his rhetoric), Dr. Lewis makes a solid case that the limited evidence of sarin use available is uncertain and does not yet prove much of anything. Lewis describes himself as a “reluctant interventionist,” and goes on to say that “it should be clear that two samples with no chain of custody ought not be enough to convince a reluctant interventionist.” Unfortunately, because of the opportunism of enthusiastic interventionists and the misleading reporting on the “red line” to which Lewis refers there is probably a widely-shared misunderstanding of what has happened in Syria and what the “red line” is. Hawks are eager to say that Obama is “blurring” the “red line,” but in fact it is advocates for intervention that are deliberately distorting what it meant in order to claim that it has already been violated. The idea seems to be to declare that U.S. credibility is at stake while helping to undermine it, and then demand that the U.S. take “action” in order to salvage it.
Lewis also has some choice words for Syria hawks, especially those in the GOP:
Hey folks, how about coming up with a national security policy that amounts to more than a list of countries you’d like to attack on the basis of whatever half-assed intelligence report you find convenient?
He makes another concluding point related to what I was saying yesterday:
Intervening now, on the basis of this intelligence, simply removes whatever is keeping Assad from gassing cities.
That is how we know that most of the sudden interest in discouraging chemical weapons use in Syria through military intervention is just a pretext for war in Syria.