Sometimes satire can capture the truth in ways that “straight” reporting simply cannot. Case in point: the new issue of Private Eye, Britain’s version of the Onion, has a mock headline: “Obama Warns Syria ‘Kill People Properly’.” It imagines President Obama issuing a warning to Bashar Assad against the use of chemical weapons: “There are ethical ways to murder your own people and there are unethical ways and it’s very clear what the difference is. If President Assad fails to keep killing people in the approved manner, we will have no option but to send an unmanned drone from thousands of miles away.”
I thought of that mock news item as I read the real news from Syria, which is that Assad is now firing Scud missiles at his own people–the very same missiles that Saddam Hussein fired at Israel during the 1991 Gulf War. These are blunderbuss weapons that are hard to aim and as likely to wipe out a kindergarten as a military installation. The fact that Assad is firing them on his own territory is a sign of how much control he has lost and how desperate he has become–as well as a sign of how he is increasingly reluctant to use manned aircraft now that the rebels appear to have gotten their hands on some portable surface-to-air missiles.
The use of the Scuds is a significant escalation of the conflict, but because the missiles are not equipped with chemical warheads they fall short of the “red line” that Obama has laid out for unspecified American action in Syria. So the Scud attacks are unlikely to provoke an American response. In short, the Obama administration really does seem to be telling Assad that it’s OK for him to kill his people with missiles–but not with chemical weapons. This is an illogical and macabre distinction that deserves the mockery it receives from Private Eye.