Monday, 15 August 2016

Latest chemical weapons use in Syria

Apologies for those who've been waiting for my latest post. One of the downsides of being a blogger is that it will naturally have to come below a number of other things on the pecking order, not unless someone wants to start financing me for this?

No takers? No?

Sod 'ya then. In that case I better start producing more content in the ever elusive pursuit of some meagre ad revenue. And today I just want to touch quickly on the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Back in 2013 I supported the idea of airstrikes against Syria, which it turned out made me a bit of a contrarion because the general feeling seemed to be against them. I then found myself reversing positions when in 2015 parliament voted to extend military action against ISIS to those elements operating in Syria. On this point it seems I once again became a contrarion. I didn't choose those positions to be deliberately obtuse and to run against the grain. Last year I made my feelings very clear that I didn't think extending UK air strikes to Syria would achieve much other than to dilute British efforts against ISIS, which I felt would be better focused on those elements in Iraq where the ground forces facing ISIS have a much better chance of actually achieving some gains.

Back in 2013 however it wasn't about ISIS. My rationale for supporting strikes against Syria, specifically against the Syrian government, was not to stop terrorism or to topple Assad. My concern was that if the international community sat around and did nothing then it would set a very dangerous precedent that while the use of chemical weapons would be frowned upon, ultimately it would be something you could get away with. It risked a repeat action by the Assad regime and would potentially send the signal to other regimes of a less than democratic nature that chemical weapons might be a valid option for the future.

At the time very few people seemed to agree with me. I was assured that bombing Assad would do nothing and that it was all in hand anyway. The international community would take economic actions if he didn't give up his weapons and that would be the last we would hear about chemical weapons in Syria.

And yet here we are, three years later. Having supposedly surrendered his entire stockpile for disposal, Assad is now in possession of more weapons and is using them against his people once more. To rub salt into the wound, not only have these latest attacks drawn a much more modest amount of media coverage, but there has also been very little uproar in the international community in the same way as there was the first time. Or in other words their use has in effect become somewhat normalised.

Not sure normalised is the correct word as I can't see the US or NATO for example breaking out the chlorine gas anytime soon. But clearly the precedent has now been established; you can use chemical weapons, even on your own people, and get away with it. The cavalry is not coming. The missiles and bombs are not coming. You might get a slap on the wrist and your future international travel plans might become somewhat more limited, but fundamentally you can get away with it, as long as you don't go over board. Somehow, some way, we've managed to make chemical weapons somewhat acceptable again.

Thus it raises a number of questions for me. To start with, where is Caroline Lucas and all the other MPs and commentators who were celebrating defeating the government back then? I remember at the time her being very chuffed with herself that the vote had gone against military action and the way forward was negotiation etc. She seemed to be beaming from ear to ear, assuming that she'd won some grand victory for peace and forward thinking. Well that's turned out awesome, hasn't it Caroline? This is why I hate people like the Greens and hope they don't even come close to a sniff of government. I understand they don't want to see violence, none of us do (I would hope). I believe that they genuinely - in their heads at least - believe they are doing the right thing to help and are nice people. But at some point they have to stop sniffing their own farts and realise that sometimes the problem is a nail that you can't just talk into a hole, you have to bash it with a bloody great hammer.

The next question is what the government - and the international community as a whole - intends to do now. With the heavy involvement of Russia in Syria the opportunity for strikes against Assad has probably been lost. They could perhaps attempt to use the latest developments to apply pressure on Russia to withdraw, but I doubt Putin would listen. Sanctions against Syria? Syria is in such a parlace state anyway I doubt a new round of sanctions would do much. More money and training for Syrian rebels, especially ones that are engaged against ISIS? It's an option with some merits, but also a number of drawbacks.

The reality is that the window for any kind of serious action has probably been missed already. My big fear now is that this potentially opens the door for other regimes. Thankfully as yet we've not seen the spread of chemical weapons use, but then we haven't seen another serious and capable regime face such difficulties yet. I sincerely hope this does not become some kind of international norm, with a lot of huffing and puffing but no serious action in return. It will certainly be interesting to see how the UK, US and indeed the UN respond to these latest instances of quite flagrant chemical weapons use.


  1. I understand your reasoning, but....

    Big picture, for Assads side its victory or extermination.
    A few Nato punishment bombings would just be factored in to the cost of using chem.
    He isn't going to meekly watch his people slaughtered or taken as slaves by ISIS to avoid a few lots C4 posts.

    Our ability to constrain him is likewise hobbled, because every bomb we drop on him is one step closer to reopening the damascus slave market.

    If its a choice between normalising gas or slavery, gas all the way from this blogger.

    I think this is being over sold.
    It does appear that it was a Military use' in that is was used to deny terrain during a battle, like an air dropped mine field, rather than a terror use, dropped on a civilian area specifically for mass casualties.
    Although I suppose that's the danger of normalisation

  2. Don't forget he kicked all this off by killing some of his own people...

    The dilemma that strikes would have to create would be whether the damage done by NATO would be more or less than not using chemical weapons. It would have to create a situation where chemical weapon use would be pointless, because the retaliation it would draw would be worse than just pulling out of a particular neighbourhood.

    But the window for that has probably closed now. Which means it's a three way battle between Assad, ISIS, and the morass of pockets and groups that make up the "good rebels", not all of whom would actually meet our definition of "good".

    And your last point sums up the problem. Chemical weapon use is already being viewed as "well, it's not that bad". Until someone takes it up a notch.

    1. Considering that Assad and Russia heve spent the last years ignoring ISIS (as much as possible) while engaging "moderate" rebels with murderous intent. I doubt there are many "good rebels" left. That was the intent after all, give the world a choice between Assad and ISIS.

      I thought - like you - there should have been a retaliatory strike to stigmatize the use of WMDs. I wasn't a vocal supporter however - which I regret today - as I feared NATO getting sucked into another open-ended conflict.

    2. At this rate there might not be many people left in Syria full stop.