Monday, June 23, 2014

It's the Regime, Stupid

Syria has turned over the last of its declared chemical weapons:

Syria has handed over the remaining 100 tonnes of toxic material it declared to the global chemical weapons watchdog, clearing the way for destruction of the stockpile at sea, sources told Reuters on Monday.

Which is nice. And makes future foreign intervention easier, since the chemical weapons threat will be much lower. I'm sure the Turks are breathing a sigh of relief.

But Assad has used chemical weapons that weren't declared--and which are dual use, in any case (chlorine gas)--since that declaration.

And we don't know if Assad declared everything.

Nor can we have much confidence that Assad won't rebuild a modernized chemical arsenal after this whole ugly mess is behind him.

Assad has used the past 9 months to reclaim territory in the west from rebels and rebuild his ground security forces with Iran's help. Assad has starved civilians which is also helping Assad restore control of territory in the west.

The demoralization of the non-jihadi rebels as we abandoned them by refusing to defend our red line on chemical weapons use and as we continue to dangle small amounts of aid to assist a diplomatic bargain with Assad rather than go all in to support the non-jihadi rebels achieve a victory over Assad is also helping Assad counter-attack.

I always believed Saddam was the problem and that even if he did not have chemical weapons before we invaded, Saddam would have rebuilt his stocks eventually had he lived and remained in power.

We may have the opportunity to see Assad rebuild his chemical arsenal as an answer to Israel's nuclear weapons, demonstrating that a dictator willing to kill remaining in power is the real WMD.

Israel was always the justification for Assad's chemical weapons (which he denied having until last year, just as Israel won't talk about their nukes). That won't change under Assad or his ilk. The only thing that could change things for the better is the defeat of Assad's regime that wants chemical (and nuclear, ideally) weapons.

By all means, let's celebrate that in the short run, Assad's chemical capabilities are probably minimal.

But let's not be fooled that this is Nobel Peace Prize-worthy (Sorry, Kerry). The problem is the Assad regime. And it is still there, and killing with barrel bombs, chlorine gas, and starvation.