The Endgame in Syria
Surprise! Assad Still Has Chemical Weapons

One year after the Obama Administration celebrated its singular Middle East achievement of forcing Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus to give up its chemical weapons, U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that the regime was still in possession of various weaponized chemicals beyond the chlorine gas it has used on civilians in recent months. (Don’t look now, but our own Adam Garfinkle repeatedly told you so.)

Amazingly enough, having concluded that President Obama’s threats about bombing were hollow, it appears that Assad did not fully comply with his commitments.

This won’t help the Obama Administration on Capitol Hill as it tries to sell the Iran agreement. Some of the parallels to what the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing focused on at the first Iran hearing yesterday are uncanny. Consider the following, from The Wall Street Journal

Because the regime was responsible for providing security, it had an effective veto over inspectors’ movements. The team decided it couldn’t afford to antagonize its hosts, explains one of the inspectors, or it “would lose all access to all sites.” And the inspectors decided they couldn’t visit some sites in contested areas, fearing rebels would attack them.

Under the terms of their deployment, the inspectors had access only to sites that the Assad regime had declared were part of its chemical-weapons program. The U.S. and other powers had the right to demand access to undeclared sites if they had evidence they were part of the chemical-weapons program. But that right was never exercised, in part, inspectors and Western officials say, because their governments didn’t want a standoff with the regime.

And the Russians appear to have used their weight to impede accusatory reports, as well.

If Assad, an embattled ruler of a small state with his back to the wall, can thumb his nose at the U.S. on a WMD deal, what will Congress think are the chances that the mullahs in Tehran will abide by their accord? That we’ll be able to find and confirm evidence of such cheating, particularly in a timely manner? Or that the administration will take the necessary action to enforce the deal if cheating is found?

As Walter Russell Mead wrote this morning, it’s now past time to pivot to a hard line on Syria—which action is not only overdue in its own right, but would also go far to balance Sunni concerns vis-a-vis the Iran deal and hence make it stick. If anyone thinks we need yet another reason to get rid of Assad, the Journal‘s report this morning seems suitable to us.

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