The Assad regime is on its last legs. More than 40,000 Syrians have been murdered, and the Obama administration suspects that in a last ditch effort to hang on to power, Assad may use chemical weapons. Multiple reports indicate that the nerve gas sarin has been loaded into shells for dispersal. Sarin is completely indiscriminate, like all chemical weapons. Where it lands, it kills. Frankly, the reports amaze me. There is no upside to the decision to use chemical weapons for Assad. While it is true that he might stifle some part of the rebellion against him, it is also true that a decision to use these contraband weapons would bring in outside powers and seal Assad’s fate. Still, there’s no seeing into the mind of a desperate tyrant.
No matter what, however, the challenge from Syria will be far from done. Because the United States has sat on its hands, observing massacre after massacre; because Obama has again subcontracted foreign policy to the likes of Qatar; because principle has been absent from the president’s national security calculus; for all these reasons, the aftermath in Syria will make Libya look like a picnic. The State Department has finally admitted that weapons provided by Gulf countries to rebels in Libya have fallen into the hands of extremists; we should not doubt that is the case in Syria. Worse yet, in Syria there are ample chemical weapons, sophisticated missiles, and the beginnings of a nuclear weapons program. All of this will be at the disposal of a lethal mix of the original rebels, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah and elements of al Qaeda. Who will get what? Good question.
Any new government formed in the aftermath of the horrors of the war in Syria will have its work cut out for it. Only one thing is certain: American influence will be minimal. The Obama administration has hinted it will recognize the Syrian National Coalition next week, following on France and the UK’s earlier decision to do so. But accepting a foregone conclusion isn’t leadership, or even leadership from behind. How will the post-Assad Syria get sorted? What will happen to Syria’s minorities? What will happen to all the terrorist groups now fighting? What impact will they have on Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon? And where will all those weapons go? Good questions. The only thing we here in Washington know is that President Obama doesn’t really think it’s our problem.