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US Deepens Fight in Syria; Many Skeptical of Chemical Weapons, Ron Paul says Same Rhetoric as Iraq
by Ezra Van Auken
Last Thursday afternoon the Obama administration declared that Syria’s opposition to President Bashar al-Assad would be receiving lethal aid, something the administration had publicly held off from since the middle of Syria’s war. According to the Associated Press, lethal aid could range from small-arms weapons to shoulder-fired rocket-propelled grenades and anti-tank missiles. The abrupt decision was made days after the announcement of DC meetings, which were a result of Assad’s huge victory in Qusayr.
On top of the newly approved arms deal, the US will also be maintaining a somewhat large military presence in Jordan, south of Syria. After placing Patriot missile systems and F-16 fighter jets in the region, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel approved late last week that after the military exercises, the military equipment would stay for any Syrian problems. In addition, Western diplomats have given indication that the White House is overlooking the options of implementing a no-fly zone. Administration officials denied reports of no-fly zone options.
Many analysts of the Syrian war believe America’s lethal support is a direct response to Assad’s key victory in Qusayr and ongoing momentum. However, President Obama and his administration have said this military action is due to the use of chemical weapons by Assad’s forces. The administration hasn’t sold everyone though, many individuals are skeptical of the accusations including Jean Pascal Zanders, former senior fellow at the EU’s Institute for Security Studies. Zanders believes there is little evidence to prove something as crucial as a chemical attack, which politicians are deeming the “red line”.
Zanders said, “It’s not just that we can’t prove a sarin attack, it’s that we’re not seeing what we would expect to see from a sarin attack.” Pointing out the simpler realizations of a chemical attack, Zanders noted that there is still no video or photo evidence either from when the attack first took place or even in the post-effected areas. Another skeptic to the sarin attack is a senior scientist at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Philip Coyle. The senior scientist explained that judging what a few select sources have said versus seeing a public account is tough.
Bringing up a lack of hard evidence, “Without blood samples, it’s hard to know,” Coyle explained. “But I admit I hope there isn’t a blood sample, because I’m still hopeful that sarin has not been used.” Besides skepticism, even if the accounts were ringing true, many believe the use of chemical weapons is no different than a mortar, machine gun or tank casualty. As former Representative Ron Paul said on the Neil Cavuto’s Fox Business, “So whether you’re machine gun or gassed or a drone missile kills you, it’s still very dangerous, but I think we are looking for trouble by being there.”
Now, with US giving the green light to supply a variety of rebels with military aid, the war in Syria will likely be heating up in the next few months. Unfortunately, the rebels that US officials have pledged more lethal aid to are intertwined between secularists and Sunni extremists – making the process of “vetting” a tricky one. AntiWar reported, “Having US arms show up in the hands of al-Qaeda fighters is an embarrassment the administration would prefer to avoid,” alluding to the chance of Islamist use.
The looseness of leadership among opposition groups in Syria is proving to be costly. With no real organization and many groups integrated regardless of extremism, it seems that whatever is done to vet rebels at this point will do little to decrease the likelihood of arms being used by Sunni extremists. For instance, in the two years of Syria’s civil war the Obama administration has declared two rebel groups so far to be the “banner” or “representation” of the opposition. Interestingly, both the Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC) and the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) were removed of their titles within months because of their illegitimacy and collaboration with Islamists.
Along with the fact opposition groups have already been propped up and dropped by the US for shady behavior, the New York Times reported in March that CIA officials, Qatar, Croatia and Saudi Arabia have all been covertly funneling weapons to rebels since January of 2012. The evidence speaks louder than words, which is not good for US officials who say this public announcement of support will be positive. McClatchyDC has detailed on many instances where those same Saudi, Croatia, Qatar, US funded weapons have been used by secularists and extremists working together.
All of this is indicating the inconsistency with Syria’s opposition, making US decisions very controversial. “We need to resist the powerful gravitational pull of another war in the Middle East,” said vice president of the Center for a New American Security, Shawn Brimley. Rep. Paul explained in a “Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity” video summing up the fiasco, “The one thing I find rather ironic because I was very much involved into the lead up of the Iraq war is the language is the same. They are using the same arguments, weapons of mass destruction, poisoning gasses, hundreds of people died, the government is doing this.” Paul then noted that US officials have yet to back their assessments with factual information.
Although Washington DC has been persuaded into more interventionism, the rest of America seems to still find it unnecessary. An NBC/Wall Street poll reveals the majorities polled disagree with more intervention. 42 percent believe humanitarian, non-lethal support is appropriate while 24 percent believe the US should be completely out of Syria’s two-year war.
The US as of right now has funded rebels, provided humanitarian support, trained secularists in Jordan, deployed Patriot systems to both Jordan and Turkey, and gave the “green light” to Israel to conduct air strikes on Assad’s equipment.