Jerusalem – Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement that Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his population warrants action is long overdue. The Obama administration missed opportunity after opportunity during the 2011 nascent phase of the pro-reformist and democratic revolt against Assad.
Sadly, Obama’s inaction helped open the Jihadi flood gates and al-Qaeda forces filled pockets of anti-Assad resistance. The Obama administration’s inertia in Syria in 2011 resembled the failure to take sides with the Iranian people against the Mullahs’ regime in 2009. The Iranian protests for democracy shook the Muslim world, creating the first opening, one can argue, in the latter revolt for democracy in Tunisia. Iranian democrats asked during the 2009 demonstrations: “Obama: Are you with us or against us?” Obama chose to stay on the sidelines.
Now, the Obama administration has an amazing opportunity to deliver a one-two punch to Syria’s regime and its Iranian paymasters and supplier of military assistance. The greatest force for global terrorism remains the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, and the jingoistic regime he controls in Tehran.
If Obama moves forward with military strikes against Syria, he should exercise total force to obliterate Assad’s air force, runways, airports, and sources of fuel for his fighter jets and helicopters. Given Assad’s oft-repeated crossing of Obama’s redline to not use chemical weapons, intervention should target the destruction of Assad’s capability to deploy the deadly agents.
Israeli president Shimon Peres correctly urged that the international community intervene to remove Assad’s chemical-weapons arsenal. Peres argues that a categorical moral imperative should trump all other concerns.
Assad’s chemical weapons represent an immediate and ongoing threat to Turkey, Israel, Jordan, Egypt and, of course, Assad’s population. Israel’s postal service, which distributes gas masks, reports a fourfold increase in requests for the anti-chemical gear.
While the recent horrific chemical attacck resulted in the deaths of over 300 Syrians, Assad’s killing sprees since 2011 have caused the deaths of 100,000 people. Why the conventional killings did not prompt Kerry to declare them “a moral obscenity” and rallying cry for decisive military action is perplexing.
— Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow Benjamin on Twitter @BenWeinthal.