Joseph Holliday writes: You’ve got to hand it to him. Bashar al-Assad may be a cruel and ruthless dictator, but he does know how to play his cards. His careful, incremental introduction of chemical weapons into the Syrian conflict has turned President Barack Obama’s clear red line into an impressionist watercolor, undermining the credible threat of U.S. military intervention. Despite Obama’s statement on Friday that “we’ve crossed a line,” Assad knows that the United States does not want to be dragged into a Middle Eastern civil war and is attempting to call Obama’s bluff.
The Syrian regime’s subtle approach deliberately offers the Obama administration the option to remain quiet about chemical attacks and thereby avoid the obligation to make good on its threats. But even more worrying, Assad’s limited use of chemical weapons is intended to desensitize the United States and the international community in order to facilitate a more comprehensive deployment in the future — without triggering intervention.
The advent of chemical weapons use in Syria should not come as a surprise, and neither should the manner in which Assad has introduced them. The gory details about chemical weapons use are still forthcoming, but one of the first likely instances took place in late March at Khan al-Asal, a regime military facility under siege by rebels. Opposition reports and videos showed symptoms and effects consistent with a chlorine or phosphate-based chemical weapon, which the rebels claimed was delivered by a short-range rocket. [Continue reading…]