According to New York University political scientist Alastair Smith, Assad's use of chemical weapons is in reality "a brilliant play internationally" on the global field of politics and power -- if, of course, you're viewing it from the psychotic dictator's position.
Smith and Bruce Bueno de Mesquita co-authored "The Dictator's Handbook: Why Bad Behavior Is Almost Always Good Politics," which is an examination of why autocrats do what they do.
Joshua Keating, staff writer for Slate, recently talked to Smith and reported that "he thinks (Assad's) use of chemical weapons was a risky but shrewd move that had less to do with punishing the rebels than with sending a signal to his core supporters -- predominantly members of the Alawite religious sect -- and his most important international allies."
In his own words, Smith elaborated: "First of all, using chemical weapons has absolutely cemented that for Assad there can be no soft landing. That has two effects: Domestically, it has signaled to his coalition that they should stick with him. He's there for the long run and there's no easy way out for him, so they know he won't desert them. These crimes against humanity have also made ... very clear that it's going to be very bad for the Alawites if there's any political transition, which makes them even more loyal to him. They have nowhere else to go."
Smith added: "It's also been a brilliant play internationally. The extent of the chemical weapons has not been so much that Obama's willing to put ground forces in. The airstrikes they are discussing are unlikely to be a decisive military factor. And Russia and Iran would love to snub the nose of the U.S., and this is a perfect way to do it. The U.S. is going to have to go it alone if they do it, and this is a great way for Russia and Iran to make the U.S. look impotent and pathetic. Russia's going to continue supplying (Assad) with weapons, and Iran's going to keep supplying him with money. So this was actually a brilliant play from him."