Chemical Agents in Bombs

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Syria has agreed to allow UN inspectors onto the Damascus sites where an alleged chemical weapons attack occurred. This may clarify matters. The area was being shelled by government forces. Civilians were crowded into basements and tunnels. Thermobaric bombs are not chemical weapons, but they contain chemical agents such as ethylene oxide and propylene oxide. Unexploded or partially exploded ordnance of this kind can disperse these chemicals. They can be toxic, and they can have some of the effects on human beings that occurred. The UN team will presumably gather the munitions remnants to see if this was a cause of the deaths. Another possibility is that the government rockets hit and dispersed chemical agents in the hands of some rebels. A previous UN inspector has said plainly that some of the rebels have such chemicals and some have been arrested in Turkey with such agents. Other possibilities are that elements from either of the two sides or both launched chemical weapons.

Obama so far has been reluctant to intervene openly with US forces. This is prudent from his standpoint, because there is little to gain from intervening and the risks of causing wider warfare involving other nations are great. He irrationally reduced his flexibility a year ago in making chemical weapons a red line, but he can always shift away from that position or qualify it according to whether or not specific nerve gasses were used or not, and whether their use was intentional or accidental. The red line of chemical weapons is irrational too compared with the larger effects of the war on human life, which the US and other UN signatories have been encouraging and supporting materially for several years.

The US role should have been neutral. If Obama is trying to achieve what he thinks is a “good” outcome, neutrality and peacemaking are the right ways to go about it. He shouldn’t have taken sides. Cruise missiles and bloody civil wars solve nothing. Arming insurrectionists encourages the warfare. Calls for Assad to leave office encourage disorder and bloodshed. They make matters worse. Obama would reject any attempts by any states or groups outside the US to arm opposition and rebel groups against the US government. Most Americans would do the same. Most do not want a civil war. Are most Syrians any different? Does anyone believe that the civilians in Syria who have been displaced, made refugees, been injured or killed wanted to be caught in a civil war?

10:46 am on August 25, 2013