Mike Crowley addresses the growing concerns that al-Qaeda may seize Assad’s chemical weapons and use them abroad:
The reality in Syria is more complicated. The prospect of Assad’s weapons falling into anti-American hands is real enough for the U.S. to be watching very, very closely. But it’s probably not threatening enough–at least not yet–to justify the kind of full-scale ground invasion that might be required to secure Syria’s chemical arsenal. …
[T]here’s no guarantee that the radical jihadists of al Nusra won’t overtake a chemical site, especially if the Assad regime and its military infrastructure should collapse. Fortunately, Syria’s stockpile was designed for large scale military use–particularly for missile or bomber attacks on Israel–and not for the portability and simplicity that would appeal to terrorists. “You can’t just run down the street and throw it into a building,” says WINEP’s White. Many of Syria’s weapons are ‘binary,’ or stored as two separate ingredients which must be combined before lethal use. A nerve gas shell, for instance, typically features two compartments which break open from the force of the shell’s firing; the shell’s rotation then mixes the ingredients into a sinister cocktail. Without special training and equipment it would be exceedingly difficult to extract chemicals from such weapons and put them to effective use.
Marc Lynch’s two cents regarding the “red line” talk over chemical weapons:
I have little to add to the thousands of essays already published on this, beyond what I’ve already argued. I might add that defending American “credibility” is always a bad reason to go to war. The reputation costs of not enforcing a red line are minimal, and will evaporate within a news cycle; military intervention in Syria will be the news cycle for the next few years. The United States should act in Syria in the way that it believes will best serve American interests and most effectively respond to Syria’s horrific violence, not because it feels it must enforce an ill-advised red line.