Ops, can’t bring that up…
Just when Western leaders think they can forget about the Syrian civil war, Bashar Assad drags them back in. A suspected poison gas attack widely blamed on the Syrian regime killed at least 58 people in opposition-held territory Tuesday, including 11 children.
Syria’s army denied using chemical weapons, but then that’s what the regime said in 2013 when it used them against civilians in opposition territory in a Damascus suburb. This time bombs dropped by warplanes hit the town of Khan Sheikhoun in northwestern Syria, spreading an unknown gas that caused people to faint, foam at the mouth and suffocate, according to doctors and rescue workers.
“All pieces of evidence indicate that the raid was carried out by the regime,” said Raed Saleh, director of the White Helmets civil-defense organization that operates in rebel-controlled Syria. As far as we know, the Syrian opposition doesn’t have warplanes.
Such an attack isn’t supposed to be possible now because President Obama, John Kerry and Vladimir Putin claimed to have rid Syria of its chemical-weapons stockpiles. Mr. Obama took up the Russian strongman’s arms-control offer in 2013 after Mr. Obama flinched on a military strike to enforce his famous “red line” against Mr. Assad’s use of chemical weapons.
The two nations and the United Nations then made a great show of destroying the stockpiles that Mr. Assad claimed not to have. But U.S. intelligence believed the regime was holding some weapons in reserve, and the use of chlorine gas has become almost routine. Tuesday’s attack seems to have been a deadlier gas, perhaps sarin that was used in 2013. The Russian defense ministry, which is Mr. Assad’s military patron, dismissed reports of the attack as “absolutely fake,” but the victims on video from Syria look real enough. The attack again shows the folly of relying on arms-control promises from men like Messrs. Assad or Putin. The Russian is violating the 1988 INF treaty by introducing new missiles in Europe, so why would he fret about more poison gas in Syria?
A State Department official said the facts suggest the attack is a war crime, and White House spokesman Sean Spicer said “these heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence” of the Obama Administration’s “weakness and irresolution.” He’s right, but Donald Trump is now the President. The attack comes after the Administration has been publicly signaling that deposing Mr. Assad is no longer a goal of U.S. policy. It’s possible the regime took those comments as license to unleash more hell.
Mr. Trump inherited a mess in Syria, but if he doesn’t want to preside over endless civil war and more war crimes, he’ll need a better strategy than Mr. Obama’s default of moral denunciation and trusting Russia.