Does Syria know how deeply the West despises chemical weapons?
It occurs to me that perhaps Assad is brandishing chemical weapons without really appreciating how much that threat could inspire the West to attack Syria. Our revulsion stems from World War I when poison gas was used on a wide scale. So strong was the urge to never use it again that no Western power used poison gas in World War II.
But does the Arab world share our revulsion? Iraq used chemical weapons freely in the Iran-Iraq War. Egypt used chemical weapons in Yemen.
Is it possible that Assad just doesn't share our revulsion of gas use that could mean he either is more willing to use poison gas or that he doesn't understand that threats to use it could backfire in a major way?
UPDATE: Libya used chemical weapons against Chad rebels in 1980, according to this article. I either forgot that or didn't know. I suspect the former unless knowledge of that chemical use is recent vintage.
The article goes into the difficulties of employing chemical weapons and the likelihood that usage won't be decisive in favor of Assad.
But that doesn't mean Assad won't use them. One, I'm still not sure that the international revulsion against chemical weapons is more than a Western concern that we assume others share.
And two, Assad might believe chemical weapons will work decisively--or just think they are his only option however low the chances of success are.
The only way that Assad can survive is if Russia and America cut a deal to allow Assad to retreat to an Alawite controlled rump state under protection of Russian troops and with an American guarantee that nobody will support a rebel pursuit--perhaps with Western troops leading a mission to secure chemical weapons sites that Assad doesn't take with him.
That's really the only way Assad could rationally use his chemical weapons arsenal, in my opinion. But Assad's rational is very different than mine, of course.