One story I've been following closely over the last day is the latest dreadful news out of Syria. There are intelligence reports suggesting that the nation's dictatorial leader Bashar Assad had deployed missiles with toxic sarin gas -- an honest-to-goodness weapon of mass destruction -- and could use them at a moment's notice:
The Syrian military is prepared to use chemical weapons against its own people and is awaiting final orders from President Bashar Assad, U.S. officials told NBC News on Wednesday.
The military has loaded the precursor chemicals for sarin, a deadly nerve gas, into aerial bombs that could be dropped onto the Syrian people from dozens of fighter-bombers, the officials said.
As recently as Tuesday, officials had said there was as yet no evidence that the process of mixing the "precursor" chemicals had begun. But Wednesday, they said their worst fears had been confirmed: The nerve agents were locked and loaded inside the bombs.
Sarin is an extraordinarily lethal agent. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's forces killed 5,000 Kurds with a single sarin attack on Halabja in 1988.
The is grim news. The odds are that Assad won't launch such an attack, that it's a bargaining chip, maybe to win safe passage and political asylum. The alternative is too horrible to contemplate: At the least, thousands would die, and the fallout could plunge the region into a wider conflict, Whatever happens, it's enormous pressure on the Obama administration and other world leaders to get it right, and to win global support for whatever action they take.
Which is a reminder of the consequences of George W. Bush -- and Dick Cheney, et al -- crying wolf a decade ago over chemical weapons in Iraq that were actually non-existent. His irresponsible, lie-based military action -- and the subsequent discovery that there were no chemical weapons -- made it harder for his successors to act today. For one thing, there's a lot of public cynicism over whether there really are about-to-be-deployed chemical weapons in Syria -- given that it was all made up the last time. And I don't think there'd be much support for a military response -- even if there are legitimate humanitarian reasons for intervening.