In this citizen journalism photo provided by the Local Committee of Arbeen, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, a man and woman mourn over the dead bodies of Syrian men after an alleged poisonous gas attack fired by regime forces, according to activists in Arbeen town, Damascus, Syria, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. Syrian regime forces fired intense artillery and rocket barrages Wednesday on the eastern suburbs of the capital Damascus, in what two pro-opposition groups claimed was a "poisonous gas" attack that killed dozens of people. (AP Photo/Local Committee of Arbeen)THE ASSOCIATED PRESS2013
By using chemical weapons to kill more than 1,000 civilians recently, the Syrian army didn’t just flip the bird to President Obama on the one-year anniversary, to the day, of his thundering “red line” announcement against the use of chems.
It also gave the middle finger to the United Nations, the West and the “global community” — because the attack came just two days after a UN team of inspectors arrived in Damascus to “investigate” months-old allegations of chemical-weapons use.
And so the once-remotely-possible notion that Obama, or the United Nations, might bring some order to Syria — a country that’s already seen more than 100,000 killed, where millions have been made refugees and where chaos and slaughter continue unabated — stands exposed as farce.
Reports by Syrian rebels — bolstered by horrific video clips depicting children, women and elderly suffocating to death — allege that the Syrian Army used chemicals in two eastern and one western suburb of Damascus.
Obama's doctrine: Never mind the red lines. Let Syria burn.
The Syrian government, as usual, denied the allegations. Washington officials say they need to study them. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was “shocked.” The Security Council convened an “emergency” session — which was foredoomed to failure, since Russia blocks any action against its Syrian ally.
So the rebel leaders (of all factions) who called on the United Nations and others to act were wasting their breath.
It was last Aug. 21 that Obama said that a red line for him would be if Syria’s vast chemical-arms caches started “moving around,” or “being utilized,” then “that would change my calculus; that would change my equation.”
Well, Obama’s foreign doctrine (benign neglect, or perhaps just hopeless uncertainty) hasn’t changed one iota in the year that passed.
Never mind the red lines. Let Syria burn.
As the chairman of the joint chiefs, Gen. Martin Dempsey, told the Associated Press yesterday, the United States could easily take out all of Syria’s air assets, and do so essentially by remote control. But it won’t, because by now we believe that if the rebels take power, they won’t support American interests.
(Would you? After Obama’s red-line fudge? After the West’s two years’ of dithering has allowed al Qaeda-friendly radicals to take an ever-greater role in leading the rebels?)
Meanwhile, the UN chemical experts arrived Monday. Headed by the Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom, the group is there to investigate past allegations of chemical-weapons use.
The push for UN inspectors started back in March, but it took months to work out a deal whereby Assad’s regime would let the inspectors in. Even then, the Syrians limited the team’s visitation rights to just three sites — and experts tell me that, after such a long time, traces of chemical munitions will be almost impossible to detect.
And fat chance the Syrians will let the team anywhere near the scenes of yesterday’s atrocities, as America asked yesterday in a closed-door Security Council session.
But even if, by some miracle, the inspectors do find evidence of chem use, nothing changes: Sellstrom’s mandate, as dictated by the Security Council, is only to determine whether weapons were used — not who used them.
So Syria’s defender, Russia, will have enough ammunition to stop any Security Council action.And Obama, hiding behind the UN, will continue to stay above the Syrian fray.
And pro-jihadi Gulf states will continue to support increasingly radicalized rebel groups while Russia, Iran and Hezbollah continue to support the ever-radicalized Assad regime.
So the slaughter will only grow worse.
Is that, as Dempsey framed it, in America’s interest?
Benny Avni is a New York Post columnist.