According to news accounts (Reuters, April 4, 2017), a suspected Syrian government chemical attack killed scores of people, including children, in the town of Khan Sheikhoun located in the northwestern province of Idlib. The U.S. government believes the chemical agent sarin was used in the attack.
This incident would be the deadliest chemical attack in Syria since August 21, 2013, when a sarin gas attack killed more than 1000 people in Ghouta near Damascus, many of them again, were children.
The use of chemical weapons is a particularly odious form of warfare, banned for good reason by the Chemical Weapons Convention, signed and agreed to by 165 of 189 countries in 1993, and administered by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical weapons (OPCW) in the Hague.
I roundly condemn this reprehensible act of unspeakable cruelty, as all civilized men would do. Trump has condemned it as well, which is to his credit, but he makes a mistake when he blames Obama. Yes, Obama drew a line in the sand. He said he would act, but he put his resolution for action up for a vote before congress and congress would not approve of his action. In my view, congress is at least partly at fault for failure to take action against the Assad regime.
What did happen was there was a negotiated weapons deal brokered by the United States and Russia. OPCW inspectors, working with the United Nations, were in Syria in 2013 when the attack occurred. They returned in October as part of the deal. They located and destroyed 1000 tons of chemical weapons. Not a shot was fired and a significant result was achieved. Fast forward four years until today. Where did Assad get his chemical weapons? The options are that either he held back some of the weapons he was supposed to surrender, or he acquired new weapons, or he produced new weapons. In any case, the Russians bear some responsibility for not doing a better job controlling the chemical weapons. The ultimate responsibility, however, lies with Assad and his use of these weapons and he must be held to account.
What is to be done? According the New York Times and other news sources, the Pentagon is preparing military options for a strike against Assad inside Syria. In the final analysis, in my view, Assad must be removed from power and tried as a war criminal.
All war is evil, but sometimes it is necessary to choose the lesser of two evils. For the United States not to act in the face of such evil perpetrated against the civilian population by the Syrian government would be, in my view, both unethical and immoral. If we do nothing, we are sending a signal to Assad and others who would violate international norms that it is OK to use these weapons with impunity. That is a danger to our national security interests. This does nothing but encourage their use and nothing to discourage their use. A price must be paid and Assad must be held accountable.