I have been watching the burgeoning story about the Assad government’s use of chemical weapons in Syria in the last few days.
I am not a chemical weapons expert. Having said that given the amount of military history I read, particularly on WWI, I have seen a lot of pictures of gas victims.
Sarin, the most commonly referenced agent supposedly in use in Syria, really has no extensive combat record. Just as basic background here are some facts about mustard gas, chlorine gas, and other chemical weapons that have been used extensively in combat:
1. They are unpredictable weapons – the gas can blow into your own lines or advancing troops or nearby civilians. Some historians maintain Hitler and Stalin did not use gas not because of some convention or fear of retaliation, but because it was ineffective given the risk to their own troops.
2. The use of mustard or chlorine gas is obvious on victims because they are covered in sores and burns, blind, and actively coughing up pieces of their lungs. The cause of the physical manifestations are obvious on battlefields with fixed trench lines.
With Sarin according to information I find on the Web, the physical manifestations while horrible are not so obvious. Not because a convulsing, coughing, vomiting, temporarily blind person is not obviously sick, it is just less obvious what the cause is. The Centers for Disease Control actually goes further and says that “Showing these signs and symptoms does not necessarily mean that a person has been exposed to sarin”.
The Guardian in the UK has a report based on “experts” that rather persuasively makes the case the Syrian government has used sarin gas on missiles.
The problem is this is not the US government of 1940. Under Roosevelt the government was out in front of the public on intervention, but facts over and over proved the government right. Instead we have the same hodge podge of deductive reasoning based on video and other evidence of unknown sources that Secretary Powell used in front of the Security Council to justify the Iraq invasion in 2003.
We have seen enough non-draft age politicians sending off too many young Americans, on news accounts, dubious intelligence, and Sherlock Holmes glib reasoning. Reasoning that has been wrong over and over again since 1992.
I will say it again, we do not understand who is doing what for what reasons in Syria. We have shown over and over again that this government and the prior one have no idea how to change for the better civil wars in the Middle East. Former Secretary Powell’s legacy should be, no more bum’s rush to war in the Middle East.