“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.
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.