Can anyone recall a single moment of greater nonsense in international affairs than the one the world is living right now, as the UN inspectors examine the gas-attack victims in Syria and the chemicals used and give us their verdict? A half-dozen nations, including the U.S. and Britain, stand ready to attack if this reddest of red lines -- the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons -- is crossed, and it all depends on a group of scientists.
Of course, the scientists will find evidence of the gas, and the Assad regime will say, "Hold on. That's XYZ sarin, and all our sarin is type ABC. Here: take a few liters straight out of our stockpile and see for yourselves."
And then some savant from -- oh, let's take some nice, quiet, neutral picturesque place -- from Israel will say, "That's true, but you can easily make XYZ from ABC. All you need to do is add a little JKL and a dash of salt -- all stuff you can buy at the local drugstore -- and you're there."
And just to be sure that this Israeli is not talking out the Netanyahu side of his mouth, another talking head from -- oh, let's take a nice, quiet, neutral place that runs a mile from anything military -- from M.I.T. will confirm that this is true, and add the opinion, "Y'know, if I wanted to gas my people and I had ABC sarin, this is exactly how I'd disguise it." And off we go to war.
It's instructive to remember a couple of things as we await the learned words of the UN scientists. First, the Syrian government is now winning the war. Russia continues to help out with arms, Hezbollah has sent their seasoned fighters. Things are looking up. What need is there to bring in deadly gas? The only element that could galvanize public opinion beyond Syria's borders -- and the mainstream media is really whacking the old drum -- is the use of chemical weapons. Even the Syrian military brass could not be that stupid.
Second, where did the major chemical attack occur? In some distant village accessible only by donkey? No, it took place just a short drive from downtown Damascus. Medecins Sans Frontieres had no people in the area, but hospital doctors contacted them and gave them details. Nice of them.
Third, when did this gas attack happen? As the rebels were gathering for a final assault on Damascus? Was this attack the Assad regime's last desperate attempt to hold on to power?
Far from it. The rebels have splintered and turned on each other . This was predictable. To judge from every Middle Eastern crisis, Arabs cannot wash a car together without disagreeing, then arguing, then insulting, then separating, then agreeing after tedious negotiations to each wash half the car, then arguing because each wants to wash the more prestigious front half, then insulting more and ending up slugging it out. No, the Syrian military has the crucial ingredient of unity that the rebels lack, and the Assad regime knows it. All it has had to do was wait out the rebels.
In short, it looks to me as if some powerful people want to get America and Nato into the war, and if it takes a gas attack on innocents to do it, well, it does.
I would imagine that President Obama, who nearly alone in Washington wishes to avoid the Syria mess, is watching this and resenting the hands on his back pushing him into another war. In his mind he has long ago run through the argument I've laid out here, but he knows he can't make it in public: it would be taken as yet another sign of weakness. Such is politics.
His wise instinct, back in the day, was to avoid the Libya mess -- until Hillary Clinton reversed course. Too bad: today Libya has no democracy and is still a mess, a long step down from the Qaddafi days, when Libya had the highest standard of living in Africa.
The previous link to Hillary Clinton is also instructive in another regard. From a New York Times looking-back-on-it analysis, the article has this line in it: "T hat night, with Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi 's forces turning back the rebellion that threatened his rule, Mrs. Clinton changed course, forming an unlikely alliance with a handful of top administration aides who had been arguing for intervention."
It would seem, then, that this winning formula has been taken out and oiled up again. For Bashar Assad's forces are "turning back the rebellion that threatens his rule." And someone has decided to do something about it.