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The WMD Excuse, Again
Be skeptical of the administration’s claims on Syria.

Syrian soldier in the Jobar neighborhood of Damascus, where chemical weapons were allegedly used.

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“In Paris,” reports Reuters, “a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army said the rebels believed government forces had fired 29 missiles. . . . Not all of the missiles appeared to have carried chemical warheads, the FSA spokesman said, but those that did were suspected to have contained sarin, a Russian-made nerve agent called SC3 [which does not exist] and liquid ammonia supplied by Iran [which would never be mixed with sarin]. . . . Verifying the handful of warhead pictures from the Damascus area, however, is difficult, with the possibility they might be faked or reproduced from previous attacks elsewhere. Some analysts say they doubt the pictured rockets [with warheads of only one or two liters] could have caused the alleged level of casualties. That might suggest the use of a larger weapon such as a Scud ballistic missile.” The Free Syrian Army spokesman claims that only some fraction of 29 missiles (a dozen?) had chemicals in them, and each was supposedly filled with one or two liters of sarin combined with two other agents that make no sense (except to agitate the U.S. by implicating Iran and Russia). This story, hand-fed to the gullible Western media, cannot possibly explain hundreds of people dying, apparently of suffocation. There is obviously much that is not yet known, and may never be known if the U.S. persists in launching missiles first and asking questions never.

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The Obama White House has no patience for any independent investigation, much less a subsequent report the public could examine. Instead, a nameless senior White House official told the Washington Post that “the belated decision by the regime to grant access to the U.N. team is too late to be credible, including because the evidence available has been significantly corrupted as a result of the regime’s persistent shelling.” What does five days of shelling have to do with conducting autopsies or testing survivors and their caretakers to determine what chemical was responsible and whether it worked by skin contact or by inhalation? What does five days have to do with interviewing a credible number of witnesses, asking about odors and other key clues, without suspicious supervision? What does five days have to do with proving the precise chemicals allegedly found in an apparently small number of small rocket shells?

By suggesting that evidence from the crime scene is no longer credible after a few days, the White House is arbitrarily ruling out all persistent chemicals, such as mustard or VX. Those agents remain dangerous for a long time, making five days irrelevant. Sarin does evaporate quickly, but its lingering effects on survivors and medical personnel persist. And there would still be evidence of or at least testimony about massive vomiting that has not yet been seen.

Chlorine, which is easily made from bleach and vinegar, is consistent with reports of respiratory distress and suffocation, including photos of children being helped with oxygen. Sarin, by contrast, has effects that are similar to the effect of pesticide on pests — vomiting, diarrhea, and total loss of muscular control — which is inconsistent with the photos. With sufficient exposure, particularly through inhalation in closed spaces, sarin causes convulsions and death within minutes.

As a weapon, sarin is by far most dangerous when inhaled in a confined space, not when dumped randomly into open spaces. In the largest case of chemical or biological terrorism in recent history, 13 people were killed by sarin in 1995 on Japanese subways. Yet recent reports from hospitals run by opposition forces say that 355 people died, out of 3,600 people who were treated for alleged neurotoxic injuries, commonly presumed to have been caused by sarin (VX does not leave injured survivors, it just kills). To stretch Japan’s record 13 fatalities into hundreds of Syrians supposedly killed by sarin in open spaces by a small number of small rockets, with no apparent vomiting or contamination, requires far more explanation than anyone has offered.

Contact with sarin-contaminated clothing or unwashed skin would have seriously threatened the health of medical personnel. Photos and films from opposition activists, however, show the injured and dead wearing presumably contaminated street clothing and being treated by people without gloves, protective clothing, or gas masks. That would be foolhardy, if not suicidal — which makes the scenes suspect. If allowed some time, U.N. investigators could discover whether many medical helpers were contaminated and, if so, interview them about odors and other evidence. If it turns out that most medical helpers were not contaminated, then we have to ask, Why not? Unfortunately, the Obama administration evidently does not want even such obvious and vital questions to be asked. The Obama team has no doubt that U.S. spies already have all the answers, just as the Bush team had no doubt that U.S. spies had all the answers about Saddam’s WMD schemes and stockpiles.

The last WMD hysteria rationalized nearly nine years of war. One simple lesson of the Iraq War should not have to be relearned: Haste makes waste.

— Alan Reynolds, a senior fellow with the Cato Institute, was director of economic research with Jack Kemp’s Tax Reform Commission.

 

 


Strike on Syria
As diplomatic rhetoric escalates over alleged use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces, the White House is mulling plans for a potential U.S. strike on the Assad regime. Here’s how that strike might look. Pictured, the destroyer USS Gravely, currently deployed off the coast of Syria.
The Obama administration has been busy laying the diplomatic and political groundwork for a strike, but has not confirmed any specific strike plan. Pictured, Secretary of State John Kerry discusses Syria at a press conference on August 26.
Media reports have coalesced around the concept of a quick strike primarily using Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from surface and submarine vessels operating in the Mediterranean, possibly complemented by heavy bombers. Pictured, Tomahawk launch from USS Sterett.
The strikes would target regime infrastructure, command centers, and artillery batteries. They would likely not target chemical weapon manufacturing or storage facilities because of the risk of collateral damage. Pictured, Syrian government tanks in Damascus.
Such a plan would inflict targeted but serious damage on the Syrian regime without putting U.S. pilots in harm’s way. Pictured, Syrian president Bashar Al Assad meets with army troops.
The Pentagon has confirmed that four Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers are already in the eastern Mediterranean: The USS Ramage, USS Mahan, USS Gravely, and USS Barry (pictured). A fifth destroyer, USS Stout, is also in the region.
The Arleigh Burke class is built around the Aegis Combat System, a powerful combination of radar and missile technology. A mainstay of the Navy’s surface offense capabilities, there are currently 62 active Arleigh Burke-class vessels in the American inventory. Pictured, USS Barry.
At just over 500 feet in length, Arleigh Burke destroyers can cruise at 30 knots and have a range of up to 4,400 nautical miles. Pictured, USS Ramage.
It is likely that at least one submarine is also in the region, but submarine deployments are rarely made public even during peacetime. Pictured, the USS Florida, which took part in operations against Libya in 2011.
The Tomahawk flies at speeds of up to 550 miles per hour and as low as 50 feet to avoid enemy air defenses. With a range of approximately 1,500 miles, it could hit any target in Syria.
The latest generation of Tomahawk missile can loiter over the battlespace for hours, transmit battle-damage assessments, and be re-targeted in flight.
The Tomahawk can carry a single, 1,000-pound warhead or drop smaller bomblets in precision strikes. Pictured, a Tomahawk launches from USS Shoup.
The Tomahawk can also be fired from submarines while submerged. Pictured, a Tomahawk launch from USS Pasadena.
Arleigh Burke destroyers can carry about 90 Tomahawk missiles. Their launches, often at night during the opening moments of a campaign, have been covered by news media since Desert Storm. Pictured, Tomahawk launch from USS Sterett.
The Tomahawk has been a workhorse of naval combat operations since its debut in 1991 against Iraq in Operation Desert Storm; 288 were fired in that conflict. Pictured, a Tomahawk launches from the battleship USS Wisconsin during Desert Storm.
Tomahawks were used most recently against Libya in Operation Odyssey Dawn, where more than 100 were fired from USS Barry (pictured) and British Royal Navy vessels.
Heavier ordnance would likely be delivered by Air Force B-2 Spirit stealth bombers, which operate out of Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri.
The B-2 would be preferred for its ability to penetrate advanced air defense systems, a mission for which it was specifically designed. Syria’s air defenses use Soviet-built equipment.
The B-2 can carry 40,000 pounds of guided munitions, in either 500- or 2,000-pound versions. It is refueled in flight to give it intercontinental range.
Air Force fighter aircraft could also be used to launch precision-guided stand-off weapons — such as the AGM-154 Joint Standoff Weapon or AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile — without having to enter Syrian airspace. Pictured, an F-16 deploys the AGM-154.
Fighter aircraft involved in an operation over Syria would include F-15 and F-16 aircraft, and would likely operate from Incirlik Air Base in Turkey and possibly facilities in Jordan. Pictured, an F-15 Eagle.
The Navy could also deploy strike aircraft from two carriers in the region — USS Harry S. Truman and USS Nimitz — which operate in the north Arabian sea, as well as from Sigonella Air Base in Italy. Pictured, an F-18E Super Hornet launches from Truman.
British forces in the Mediterranean are also likely to participate in action against Syria. The British could field strike aircraft from Akrotiri Royal Air Force Station on Cyprus, as well as their own Tomahawk missiles (pictured) launched from Royal Navy vessels.
Drones such as the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper (pictured) would likely play only a small role, if any, mainly to gather intelligence. Their weapons loads are too small to take out any target beside a vehicle.
A strike on Syria would be similar to those undertaken against Libya during Operation Odyssey Dawn in 2011 and against Iraq during Operation Desert Strike in 1998. Pictured, Tomahawk launch from USS Shiloh during Operation Desert Strike.
In Odyssey Dawn, more than 100 Tomahawks were fired from USS Barry and British Royal Navy vessels, while three B-2 bombers struck 45 targets on the opening night of the operation. Pictured, Tomahawk launch from USS Stout during Odyssey Dawn.
Syria has an aggressive air defense capability that could pose a threat to manned bombers. The Syrian air force is estimated to have 365 combat aircraft and 150 anti-aircraft missile batteries, with some 8,000 anti-aircraft missiles at its disposal. Pictured, a Syrian MiG-23 drops bombs in 2011.
Updated: Aug. 28, 2013

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