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Here’s a worrying admission: Syrian officials have admitted to possessing “weapons of mass destruction”, though they claim they would “never use them on civilians…no matter how the crisis evolves”. The weapons are reserved for “foreign” invaders. Comforting? Not really.
“Weapons of mass destruction” is a loaded term to begin with. While there are standard definitions for such weapons, has the Syrian government not already sanctioned the killing of its people on a “mass” scale? Maybe nearly 20,000 lives violently extinguished over a 16 and a half month period is not massive enough. I guess it all depends on how one defines the word “mass”, but semantics aside, it’s evident that tens of thousands of Syrians have died and many more have been injured by weapons, causing gut-wrenching destruction.
“WMD” or not, how is anyone–Syrian citizen or otherwise–supposed to trust Syrian authorities? Enough have proven themselves untrustworthy and unreliable at best and extraordinarily cruel and willing to do anything to hold onto power at worst. “Don’t worry. We would never release this Ricin or drop these Anthrax-tipped bombs. Your children will be safe.” Tell that to the people of Homs, whose city has been shelled relentlessly since the beginning of the “crisis”. Or tell that to the millions of residents of other areas of the country whose names appear in international news stories daily because of the constantly rising death toll.
The message is, then: We draw the line at using WMD on our citizens–or so we say–but conventional weapons are fine. Of course, this scene-stealing story might very well be a strategic attempt to ward off would-be interventionist nations. I’m not quite sure how that would work in the U.S. case since we all know the United States predicated its invasion of Iraq mainly on the premise of the existence of WMD there. However nuanced the international relations considerations were in this decision (which I’d say were not very nuanced at all), the fact remains: The United States invaded Iraq, a country believed to have WMD, that ended up not even having WMD. I think if anything seriously deters America from intervening in a humanitarian fashion in Syria, it won’t be the Syrian government’s claims of WMD. These claims might even serve as a motivator.
The Syrian government can’t be trusted. The world is supposed to take officials at their word when they claim they wouldn’t use weapons of mass destruction on their own people? I don’t buy it, and I don’t think informed Syrians do, either. Bashar al-Assad and members of his regime have continued to assert that Syria is under attack by “armed terrorist thugs”. They have claimed foreign influence against the country before. Why wouldn’t they attack these so-called enemies of the state? Even if they don’t really believe what they’re saying, the government’s rhetoric underscores the very reasoning for why it could seek to justify future WMD attacks on its own civilians.
The calculation that strong enough weapons can insulate a country from a kind of breeching its borders foreign intervention is an understandable one since the United States has limited its actions in certain countries with known nuclear weapons, although even this assertion is not always true. Drones in Pakistan, anyone? Obviously, China and North Korea have much larger militaries and there are regional considerations, etc. There are many variables. Iran is an interesting case. Regardless, when fewer than ten countries in the world have nuclear weapons, it is too small a sample to study in the case of the effect of interventionist policies on members of this exclusive club. And even then…Syria does not have nuclear weapons, the crown jewel of fear-inducing weapons caches.
All in all, the existence of WMD in Syria is worrying. The brazenness with which this information was announced is probably both a symbol of desperation and an attempt at showing strength, a last ditch defense mechanism. The danger of such weapons is very real and duly frightening, but it shouldn’t deter the international community (whose “wait and see” ethic hasn’t worked very well) from doing more. Far fewer people died in Libya than have already died in Syria. In a strange moment of outreach to the “West”, Qaddafi relinquished his country’s nuclear weapons program in 2005, but WMD were still found in 2011, when he was overthrown and the humanitarian intervention was undertaken. Again, comparing Syria to Libya brings up a host of other variables. My point is that WMD need not be a disqualifier from further international action in Syria.
Who is the real armed terrorist thug, Assad? If we are true to our ideals of defeating terrorism around the world–and this is not only state-sponsored terrorism, it is state-practiced terrorism—American government representatives would not turn the other way, issuing empty statements on how “Assad’s days are numbered”. This is the official U.S. State Department line, by the way. If we are committed to the rights of freedom and security for our fellow human beings, then Syria’s WMD tease should serve as a wake up call.