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Lessons from Syria’s Chemical Weapons Use

The situation is murky, but multiple reports suggest that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on the outskirts of Damascus killing hundreds, if not more than a thousand. Peter Wehner suggests how the fecklessness of President Obama’s foreign policy has exacerbated the situation. After all, Obama made Syrian chemical weapons use a red line in a speech one year ago today, but then ignored his own pronouncements to justify inaction when reports flooded in beginning in December 2012 that the red line had been breached.

A red line ignored is effectively a green light, but the problem does not start and stop with Obama. If there is one overarching lesson to be drawn from the Syrian chemical weapons abuse it is that the red line imposed on radical and rejectionist regimes should be their acquisition of chemical weapons rather than their use. After all, Syria shows that given enough time, ideological and radical regimes will use the capabilities they have, especially when they are challenged by their own people, as they inevitably will be. No autocracy lasts forever.

It has been no secret for years and, indeed, decades that Syria has had a chemical weapons capability. Here, for example, is a 2002 article dealing with Syria’s capabilities. If the Iraq war made preemption a dirty word and the 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States seem destined for the rubbish bin of history, then the events in Syria should spark a reassessment. Sometimes, preempting the ability of a state to acquire the worst weapons is a paramount national and international interest. Let the world condemn Israel for striking Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981, and Syria’s secret nuclear plant in 2007, but frankly the world is much better off with those programs and facilities eradicated.

President Obama and his supporters might now reconsider what the Syria situation means for Iran: Should Iran achieve a nuclear weapons capability or outright an arsenal of nuclear weapons, then the chance exists that at some point in time, a situation could arise in which Iranian ideologues choose to use such weaponry. The debate about a supreme leader’s fatwa against nuclear weapons use should be moot, not only because the fatwa does not exist in writing in Ali Khamenei’s compiled collections of fatwas or in a consistent form, but also because Khamenei or his successor(s) can change their minds. The time to act is before rogues can equip themselves with weapons beyond the pale; not after.



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