Austin Bay

The Assad dictatorship's August 21st chemical attack on a Damascus suburb controlled by anti-regime rebels is a heinous act -- if it indeed occurred as described by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other senior Obama administration officials.

As I write, a UN inspection team is heading for the suburbs of eastern Ghouta to test for trace residues of chemical agents. Meanwhile, the White House claims intelligence developed in the past 48 hours is decisive, and is signaling that military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his regime is all but certain.

I am more than willing to believe that Assad and his regime crossed President Barack Obama's red line forbidding the use of chemical weapons on civilians. The Assads routinely mass murder civilians. In fact, it is a family tradition. In February of 1982, in the city of Hama, Bashar's father, Hafez, slaughtered at least 10,000 people -- 30,000 is more likely.

Credible circumstantial evidence quickly emerged. On the day of the alleged attack, Doctors Without Borders reported that clinics in Damascus experienced a surge of casualties with symptoms indicating nerve gas poisoning.

The victims mentioned rockets. Assad's forces have Russian-designed rockets capable of delivering chemical munitions. In 1975, I served in a U.S. Army unit that patrolled the former intra-German border. The most gruesome quick-attack scenario had mobile Soviet rocket launchers in East Germany slamming us with rockets bearing GB (sarin) nerve agent. GB dissipates rather quickly -- convenient for Russian tankers overrunning us on their way to the Rhine. In 2013, quick dissipation means UN inspectors may have trouble finding evidence on the ground.

Doctors Without Borders now reports 355 people have died from exposure to the toxic substance. That is a neighborhood, exterminated. A "false flag" attack by a pathological rebel faction desiring American intervention remains a possibility, but it isn't likely.

Why use chemical weapons now? The most plausible explanation: because the regime has used them before, without penalty. Obama's red line was rhetorically specific but proved to be operationally fuzzy.

Obama can blame his failure to close Guantanamo Bay on his domestic political opponents, but he drew the red line, which brings us to the impending military action.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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