By Sharmine Narwani
Chemical Weapons Charade in Syria
"Al-Akhbar" - Let us be clear. The United States can verify absolutely nothing about the use of chemical weapons (CWs) in Syria. Any suggestion to the contrary is entirely false.
Don't take it from me here is what US officials have to say about the subject:
A mere 24 hours after Washington heavyweights from the White House, Pentagon, and State Department brushed aside Israeli allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria, US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and the White House changed their minds. They now believe with varying degrees of confidence that CWs have been used on a small scale inside Syria.
For the uninitiated, varying degrees of confidence can mean anything from no confidence whatsoever to the Israelis told us which, translated, also means no confidence whatsoever.
Too cavalier? I don't think so. The White House introduced another important caveat in its detailed briefing on Thursday:
This assessment is based in part on physiological samples. Our standard of evidence must build on these intelligence assessments as we seek to establish credible and corroborated facts. For example the chain of custody is not clear so we cannot confirm how the exposure occurred and under what conditions.
The chain of custody is not clear. That is the single most important phrase in this whole exercise. It is the only phrase that journalists need consider everything else is conjecture of WMDs-in-Iraq proportions.
A State Department spokesperson was asked the following: Does it mean you don't know who has had access to the sample before it reached you? Or that the sample has not been contaminated along the way?
He responded: It could mean both.
Chuck Hagel expands on that jaw-dropping admission: We cannot confirm the origin of these weapons. Although he goes on to conclude anyway: but we do believe that any use of chemical weapons in Syria would very likely have originated with the Assad regime.
Four-year-olds shouldn't have confidence in the US intelligence community at this point. Yet we are supposed to believe that the Syrian government must be behind a chemical weapons attack because Hagel says so.
Let's consider the facts. The Syrian government has clearly stated it would not use chemical weapons during the crisis regardless of the developments unless Syria faces external aggression.
The US and other western states have warned for more than a year now that as the government of Bashar al-Assad begins to "topple," the likelihood of using CWs as a desperate last measure will increase.
The White House reiterated this point yesterday: Given our concern that as the situation deteriorated and the regime became more desperate, they may use some of their significant stockpiles of chemical weapons.
Assad's government is clearly not on its last leg. If anything, the Syrian army has made tremendous gains in the past few weeks by thwarting rebel plans to storm Damascus, pushing them out of key surrounding suburbs, and cutting off their supply lines in different parts of the country.
This recent reversal of fortunes tends to validate the observations of those who have met with Assad and say the president remains confident that he can repel rebel forces whenever and wherever he chooses to do so.
Which frankly removes a major motive from any calculation by the Syrian government to use chemical weapons against civilians.
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