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Bashar al-Assad Is Using Chemical Weapons Again. Will the U.S. Avert Its Gaze?

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?

Read more at Commentary

More about: Barack Obama, Bashar al-Assad, Chemical weapons, Donald Trump, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war

 

How the U.S. Can Strike at Iran without Risking War

In his testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Michael Doran urged the U.S. to pursue a policy of rolling back Iranian influence in the Middle East, and explained how this can be accomplished. (Video of the testimony, along with the full text, are available at the link below.)

The United States . . . has indirect ways of striking at Iran—ways that do not risk drawing the United States into a quagmire. The easiest of these is to support allies who are already in the fight. . . . In contrast to the United States, Israel is already engaged in military operations whose stated goal is to drive Iran from Syria. We should therefore ask ourselves what actions we might take to strengthen Israel’s hand. Militarily, these might include, on the passive end of the spectrum, positioning our forces so as to deter Russian counterattacks against Israel. On the [more active] end, they might include arming and training Syrian forces to engage in operations against Iran and its proxies—much as we armed the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Diplomatically, the United States might associate itself much more directly with the red lines that Israel has announced regarding the Iranian presence in Syria. Israel has, for example, called for pushing Iran and its proxies away from its border on the Golan Heights. Who is prepared to say that Washington has done all in its power to demonstrate to Moscow that it fully supports this goal? In short, a policy of greater coordination with Jerusalem is both possible and desirable.

In Yemen, too, greater coordination with Saudi Arabia is worth pursuing. . . . In Lebanon and Iraq, conditions will not support a hard rollback policy. In these countries the goal should be to shift the policy away from a modus vivendi [with Iran] and in the direction of containment. In Iraq, the priority, of course, is the dismantling of the militia infrastructure that the Iranians have built. In Lebanon, [it should be] using sanctions to force the Lebanese banking sector to choose between doing business with Hizballah and Iran and doing business with the United States and its financial institutions. . . .

Iran will not take a coercive American policy sitting down. It will strike back—and it will do so cleverly. . . . It almost goes without saying that the United States should begin working with its allies now to develop contingency plans for countering the tactics [Tehran is likely to use]. I say “almost” because I know from experience in the White House that contingency planning is something we extol much more than we conduct. As obvious as these tactics [against us] are, they have often taken Western decision makers by surprise, and they have proved effective in wearing down Western resolve.

Read more at Hudson

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen