In my last post I deconstructed the facts presented by Secretary of State John Kerry in his speech asserting that the Assad regime was responsible for the August 21st chemical weapon attacks in Ghouta on the outskirts of Damascus. I showed how there was a complete and utter lack of any evidence to back up Kerry’s claims. I showed how the declassified U.S. intelligence estimate cited by Kerry similarly provided no evidence to support its allegations.
Given the complete absence of evidence linking Assad to the attacks, this post will analyze the motivations, or rather lack there of, for Assad to perpetrate such attacks.
Lack of Strategic Necessity
I think the first thing to note is that it’s widely acknowledged that Assad’s forces are currently winning the civil war. Even the rebels admit as much. Most analysts believe that given the current status quo, Assad will inevitably win the war of attrition (though Syria may be ultimately divided).
Having seized the initiative, and with the tide of the war clearly going his way, there’s simply no strategic need to resort to chemical weapon attacks. It would be one thing if there was a last-stand situation with rebel forces threatening to over-run key government strongholds but this was clearly not the case in Ghouta.
No, there was no strategic reason for Assad to resort to chemical weapons in Ghouta.
Risk of Drawing Western Powers into the Conflict
On the other hand, use of chemical weapons incurs massive strategic risk to Assad. He knows that any use of chemical weapons will assuredly:
- Bring the U.S. down on him.
- Make it difficult for the Russians to continue support him thus threatening his vital re-supply line.
- Completely isolate him on the geopolitical stage – he becomes damaged goods.
- Result in the loss of the moral high-ground. No longer could he argue to be protecting his civilian population from foreign jihadis.
These outcomes from use of chemical weapons would certainly cost Assad the war. There is no way he could stand up to the constant stream of foreign jihadis if U.S. airpower is brought to bear against his forces. Add to that the lose of his Russian re-supply lines and defeat would be all but certain.
There is no way Assad would incur these massive strategic risks for the sake of such a limited, even non-existent, tactical gain. It just doesn’t make sense. Assad is too intelligent to make such an obvious blunder knowing that his country, and ultimately his life, is on the line.
U.N. Inspectors Had Just Arrived in Damascus
The timing of the attacks is also unbelievably suspect. A team of U.N. inspectors tasked with investigating allegations of previous chemical weapon attacks had just arrived in Damascus three days before the August 21st attacks. This team was led by a Swedish chemical weapons expert.
Why would Assad unleash a chemical weapon attack at the very time U.N. chemical weapon experts where in his country? Why would he carry out these attacks in the same city where those U.N. investigators were located? It makes no sense whatsoever. Why wouldn’t he just wait a week or two until the U.N. team wrapped up its investigation and left?
No, this doesn’t make any sense at all. Given the huge strategic risks why would Assad carry out attacks under conditions that virtually guaranteed he’d be caught?
Are we honestly supposed to believe that Assad carried out chemical weapon attacks at the exact time and in the exact location that U.N. chemical weapons experts had just arrived to investigate previous allegations? Are we supposed to believe that Assad would risk giving the U.S. an excuse to commence overt military action against him? Are we supposed to believe that Assad would risk losing the moral high ground and with it his Russian re-supply lines? And finally, are we supposed to believe that Assad would risk all these things to carry out an attack of no strategic and negligible tactical importance?
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