So Where Are They?

May 2 2013 @ 11:41am

Eli Lake reports that some in the military believe the US simply does not know where Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons is. Why? It’s gone mobile:

While U.S. intelligence agencies first saw reports that Syria was moving the weapons last year, the process has accelerated since December, according to these officials. Also worrisome, said two of the officials, is intelligence from late last year that says the Syrian Scientific Research Center—an entity responsible for Syria’s chemical-weapons stockpile—has begun to train irregular militias loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in how to use the chemical munitions.

The assessment that Syria is moving large amounts of its chemical weapons around the country on trucks means that if Obama wanted to send in U.S. soldiers to secure Syria’s stockpiles, his top generals and intelligence analysts doubt such a mission would have much success, according to the three officials. “We’ve lost track of lots of this stuff,” one U.S. official told The Daily Beast. “We just don’t know where a lot of it is.”

Some neocons will use this for a further rhetorical barrage against Obama’s inaction. But the major reason for inaction is that there are no good options. I can absolutely see the need to secure those chemical weapon sites, but it’s unclear how that could ever have happened. A mini-invasion last year to secure sites that are entirely under Assad’s control? No way. Bombing the sites from the air? Could be worse in its impact than a more limited purposeful use, if the chemicals disperse. A no-fly zone? Why wouldn’t the safe area we thereby establish not become a haven for al Qaeda-connected elements?

I don’t want to seem a callous monster here. Assad’s regime is a truly vile one, and what it has been doing to its own citizens is beyond horrifying. (The video above seems to show victims of a chemical attack but no definitive indication of who deployed them, although I assume Assad’s vicious regime.) But outrage is not a practically effective policy. Sometimes, inaction is our least worst option.

And if the US hasn’t learned that we need to become less engaged in the Middle East rather than more, then we truly are committed to national bankruptcy and a terror war without end.