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National Security & Defense

‘It Made America Look Like a Liar and Weak.’

Over in The New Yorker, David Remnick has a fascinating look at “Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently (R.B.S.S.), a kind of underground journalistic-activist enterprise that, under the threat of grisly execution, smuggles images and reports on ISIS from Raqqa to its allies abroad.”

The portrait of Raqqa is familiar and yet horrifying in new detail — schools closed and children brainwashed into becoming suicide bombers, women slashed in the street if their veil shows too much of their eyes, Yazidi women “just traded from man to man in ISIS, sold, raped, abandoned.”

One section is particularly useful for discussion of our foreign policy going forward:

The members of R.B.S.S. are utterly frustrated with the efforts of the West to defeat both Assad, who has fended off the opposition so far, and ISIS, which has suffered recent losses in Iraq and Syria, but which has proved capable of exacting suffering from Sinai to Beirut to Paris.

“The problem the Syrian people have with the United States is that we are suffering for five years with barrel bombs,” one R.B.S.S. journalist said. “Assad has killed so many innocents, and many people have lost hope. After Assad’s chemical attack, when he crossed the so-called ‘red line,’ the U.S. just took the weapons. It made America look like a liar and weak.

The reason we looked like liars was because we lied, or at least made a threat of consequences we weren’t willing to enforce. The reason we looked weak was because we were — some would say are — weak. Chemical weapons attacks in Syria are now “routine.”

Recent attacks with chlorine and mustard gas on the battlefield in Syria show that the use chemical weapons in the civil war is becoming routine, a U.S. official said on Monday.

A confidential report by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on Oct. 29 provided the first official confirmation of use of sulfur mustard, commonly known as mustard gas, in Syria since it agreed to destroy its chemical weapons stockpile, two years ago.

While the OPCW did not specifically say which of the many sides in the war used the chemical, diplomatic sources said it had been used in clashes between Islamic State and rebel fighters in the town of Marea in August, as well as in rebel-held areas under attack by Syrian government forces.

That raised the possibility, diplomatic sources said, that Islamic State had gained the ability to make it themselves, or that it may have come from an undeclared stockpile.

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