For some time after the U.S. struck a Syrian airbase last April—in retaliation for the use of chemical weapons—Bashar al-Assad’s forces refrained from using poison gas. But in the past few weeks Damascus has fired chlorine gas-filled rockets at civilian neighborhoods at least six times. Noah Rothman asks if the Trump administration will once again enforce its red line:
The Trump administration now faces a moment of truth. It could preserve the moral authority it purchased after declining merely to scold the Syrian regime for deploying weapons of mass destruction against civilians, or it could retreat into a defensive crouch and act like the Syrian regime’s de-facto defense counsel. That, to its everlasting shame, was the Obama administration’s approach to the use of chlorine munitions in Syria. . . .
Chlorine is a dual-use chemical that has industrial applications and, as such, is not subject to the same global prohibition that nerve agents like sarin and VX are. But the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons lists chlorine as a choking agent with potentially lethal battlefield applications. . . .
The last administration’s efforts to downplay the severity of chlorine attacks in Syria were grotesque. President Obama’s appeal to Russia as a source of relief for the people of Syria—a nation that now actively blocks the international community’s efforts to extend the mandate of chemical-weapons inspectors in Syria—was craven.
The last administration wanted to avoid the demands that history made on it, and it was a disgrace. Will the Trump administration abandon the course correction it embarked upon last April? Will it retreat to the same obtuse legalisms to which Obama appealed, even as the worst humanitarian and military crisis of this century intensifies? Will this president shirk his duty to humanity and to history, too?