The Chemical Evidence
Kerry echoes Bush in making the case on WMD in Syria.
WSJ Editorial, August 31, 2013
If John Kerry had talked like this in 2004, he would have been President. We're referring to his press conference Friday when the Secretary of State laid out the Obama Administration's most complete case so far that Syria has used chemical weapons and why the world must respond.
"If we choose to live in a world where a thug and a murderer like Bashar al-Assad can gas thousands of his own people with impunity, even after the United States and our allies said no, and then the world does nothing about it, there will be no end to the test of our resolve and the dangers that will flow from those others who believe that they can do as they will," Mr. Kerry declared.
George W. Bush and Tony Blair couldn't have said it better, though Mr. Kerry still couldn't resist taking a dig at Iraq. The Secretary was trying to distinguish his WMD evidence from that on Iraq, as if he also hadn't found the Iraq evidence compelling as a Senator before that war. The reality is that if Mr. Kerry and Democrats hadn't spent so much time trying to make the false case that the Bush Administration had cooked intelligence in order to start a war, perhaps he wouldn't be having such a hard time persuading a skeptical American public now.
Despite the Secretary's needless gibe, he did make a persuasive case about Syria. The evidence of the large-scale Syrian attack using sarin gas on the Damascus suburbs on August 21 is substantial and from multiple, layered sources.
The summary also disclosed that it intercepted a "communication" from a Syrian official "who confirmed that chemical weapons were used by the regime on August 21 and was concerned with the U.N. inspectors obtaining evidence." Those liberals and libertarians who are demanding evidence of chemical weapons before any use of force, please take note: This intercept probably came from the National Security Agency, and it may have even gone through a U.S. switching network. Would you rather we hadn't eavesdropped?According to Mr. Kerry and an unclassified four-page intelligence summary, the evidence includes knowledge about Syria's chemical stockpiles and their movement; testimony and symptoms from victims, medical personnel and journalists; physiological samples that showed the presence of sarin; and intelligence about the movement of Syrian troops before the attack, as well as the timing of rocket launches that presumably carried the chemical canisters.
Some skeptics have claimed (like the Assad regime) that the rebels staged the chemical assault attack to invite U.S. intervention. But the intelligence summary says there is no evidence that the opposition has chemical weapons. And it offers the plausible explanation that the regime used the weapons because it was frustrated at its inability to clear out its Damascus strongholds with conventional weapons. Rebels have used the suburbs as bases for assaults on regime targets, and the chemical attack was an escalation to achieve a clear military purpose.
Especially striking was Mr. Kerry's claim that "we know that the regime has used those weapons multiple times this year," even before August 21. This suggests that Bashar Assad was testing President Obama's "red lines" with smaller attacks. When the U.S. did nothing, and even dismissed the earlier evidence as inconclusive, Assad felt he could get away with the larger operation. This earlier Administration equivocation may be another reason that Mr. Kerry is having a hard sell now.
Which brings us to the disconnect between Mr. Kerry's moral and strategic call to arms and the feeble response that he and President Obama seem to be planning.
On the one hand, Mr. Kerry says the U.S. must respond to Assad's use of chemical weapons or risk a world in which every rogue thinks he can use them. A U.S. response, Mr. Kerry said, is about whether Iran "will now feel emboldened in the absence of action to obtain nuclear weapons. It is about Hezbollah, and North Korea, and every other terrorist group or dictator that might ever again contemplate the use of weapons of mass destruction." Hear, hear.
Yet on the other hand, Mr. Obama is promising only a pinprick bombing attack that might do very little to punish Assad, much less degrade his capacity to continue waging war against his own citizens. If the stakes are as high as Mr. Kerry claims, and the goal of an attack is deterrence against the future use of WMD, the punishment must be serious enough to truly deter.
Mr. Kerry and the Administration are making a compelling case against the depredations of Bashar Assad and the need for a forceful world response. What they haven't done is make a case that their military punishment will be enough to match the magnitude of the harm and threat they describe.