On the Chemical Weapons Attack in Syria: Being Right

Almost exactly one month ago, on February 7, 2018, American and Russian-aligned forces directly skirmished for the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union. Don’t let the term “skirmish” fool you; the fighting involved a supposed sabotage of U.S. artillery positions by Russian mercenary units, followed by a counter-strike that killed dozens of Russian nationals, with the highest reports being up to 200 people dead in what Russian political figures called a “massacre.” Assad has a long history with the use of chemical weapons, some of which, namely the original Obama-era attacks that brought the U.S. into the war, are almost certainly true. But for Assad to launch a massive chemical attack against insurgent civilians less than a month after Russian media was set alight against the U.S.’s attack, an act that would hand both sides reason to escalate the war on a silver platter, would be nothing short of insanity.

Regardless of Assad’s dictatorial, megalomaniac and oppressive tendencies, one thing he is not is stupid. This kind of chemical attack achieves almost nothing for Assad’s strategic goals, and is perfectly timed to be used as fuel for the Western effort in upping the scale of the Syrian war yet again, something that President Trump already seems to be gearing up to do with ominous public comments targeting Assad and Putin. The obvious question, of course, is if not Assad – who else? Unfortunately, just about everyone.

ISIS has been confirmed in well over 50 chemical attacks in Syria. Many other parties involved in the war, from Iran to

Turkey, have significant histories behind use of chemical weapons. Many of them have every reason to want to see an escalation of tensions between the Assad regime and west-supported rebels. It’s important to remember that the Syrian civil war is not a two-way conflict between the regime and insurgent groups, but a four-way war involving the regime, two separate groups of rebels – one supported by the west and one supported by Turkey and Al-Qaeda – all fighting against ISIS at the same time. While the use of chemical weapons may seem like a foregone conclusion on Assad’s side, it is a possibility that the culprit may be the other parties in the conflict hoping to incite tensions between Western and Russian forces at an opportune time. If that’s their intention, they’re doing a particularly good job of it.

What is clear in light of the recent chemical attacks is that nearly forty civilians died in brutal, unacceptable manners, and that someone is to blame for committing such a disgusting war crime. But to point fingers at Assad and Russia with neither conclusive nor situational evidence is more than just an exercise in futility; it’s a dangerous game that could be playing right into the hands of ISIS. The media and concerned citizens alike would do well to remember that Syria is far more complex than a two-sided war.

Contact Max Goldenberg at [email protected].