The United States now says it has evidence that Syria used chemical weapons on a "small scale" — an announcement that follows similar declarations by the French, British, Israelis, and Qataris. But the question no one has been able to answer is this: Why would Bashar al-Assad have used chemical weapons on a small scale after repeated warnings from Barack Obama that any use of chemical weapons would be a "game-changer" for the United States?
It’s a puzzle that baffled Ralf Trapp, a consultant and renowned expert on chemical weapons, who spoke with Foreign Policy over the phone from Geneva. "From a military perspective, it doesn’t make sense to use chemical weapons bit by bit," he said. "Why would the regime just put it on a grenade here or a rocket launcher there? It’s just not the way you’d expect a military force to act."
But that’s precisely the scale at which the United States says Assad is using chemical weapons. "The U.S. intelligence community assesses with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale, specifically the chemical agent sarin," said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, speaking to reporters in Abu Dhabi.
From Trapp’s perspective, the tactical purpose of chemical weapons is to inflict mass casualties. Since Assad is more than capable of killing rebels in small doses, why would he deploy a small amount of chemical weapons when it runs the risk of inviting a U.S. military intervention?
It’s obvious by Assad’s attempts to court U.S. media that he desperately wants the United States to butt out of Syria’s civil war. In today’s New York Times, Anne Barnard gives a fascinating window into Syria’s charm offensive to convince reporters that U.S. support for the rebels is against its own interests. Additionally, Russia, an ally Syria can’t afford to lose, has also warned the regime against using chemical weapons.
Tactically speaking, using chemical weapons on a limited scale could instill fear in the populace. But is that benefit for the Assad regime worth the cost of provoking the United States and angering Russia?
Colum Lynch is Foreign Policy's award-winning U.N.-based senior diplomatic reporter. Lynch previously wrote Foreign Policy's Turtle Bay blog, for which he was awarded the 2011 National Magazine Award for best reporting in digital media. He is also a recipient of the 2013 Elizabeth Neuffer Memorial Silver Prize for his coverage of the United Nations.
Before moving to Foreign Policy, Lynch reported on diplomacy and national security for the Washington Post for more than a decade. As the Washington Post's United Nations reporter, Lynch had been involved in the paper's diplomatic coverage of crises in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan, and Somalia, as well as the nuclear standoffs with Iran and North Korea. He also played a key part in the Post's diplomatic reporting on the Iraq war, the International Criminal Court, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and U.S. counterterrorism strategy. Lynch's enterprise reporting has explored the underside of international diplomacy. His investigations have uncovered a U.S. spying operation in Iraq, Dick Cheney's former company's financial links to Saddam Hussein, and documented numerous sexual misconduct and corruption scandals.
Lynch has appeared frequently on the Lehrer News Hour, MSNBC, NPR radio, and the BBC. He has also moderated public discussions on foreign policy, including interviews with Susan E. Rice, the U.S. National Security Advisor, Gerard Araud, France's U.N. ambassador, and other senior diplomatic leaders.
Born in Los Angeles, California, Lynch received a bachelor's degree from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1985 and a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism in 1987. He previously worked for the Boston Globe.| The Cable |
France: use force; Spies, experts: it’s likely it was a gas attack; Dempsey on Syria: no one side with which to side; Wheels up for Hagel today; Bradley Manning to be known as “Chelsea;” and a bit more.Gordon Lubold
Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children.| Situation Report |
Kevin Baron is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy, covering defense and military issues in Washington. He is also vice president of the Pentagon Press Association. Baron previously was a national security staff writer for National Journal, covering the "business of war." Prior to that, Baron worked in the resident daily Pentagon press corps as a reporter/photographer for Stars and Stripes. For three years with Stripes, Baron covered the building and traveled overseas extensively with the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, covering official visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East and Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, in more than a dozen countries. From 2004 to 2009, Baron was the Boston Globe Washington bureau's investigative projects reporter, covering defense, international affairs, lobbying and other issues. Before that, he muckraked at the Center for Public Integrity. Baron has reported on assignment from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the South Pacific. He was won two Polk Awards, among other honors. He has a B.A. in international studies from the University of Richmond and M.A. in media and public affairs from George Washington University. Originally from Orlando, Fla., Baron has lived in the Washington area since 1998 and currently resides in Northern Virginia with his wife, three sons, and the family dog, The Edge.| The E-Ring |