The Skeptics

Don't Jump to Conclusions about the Syrian Chemical Attack

The most reasonable conclusion is that the evidence is mixed and inconclusive. Although the Assad government may be the guilty party, the possibility of false-flag operations from ISIS cannot, and should not, be dismissed. Even non-ISIS Sunni forces might have gained access to chemical weapons, perhaps from Syrian government stocks captured during the fighting. Obviously, ISIS obtained such weapons from somewhere, and it is naive to assume that Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate) or another Islamist faction in the anti-Assad insurgency could not have done so. To view the evidence regarding the chemical attacks—much of which is provided by rebel sources—as definitive virtually invites manipulation by Syrian factions with their own, often unsavory, political agendas. At the very least, U.S. policymakers should exhibit greater caution about assigning responsibility for the chemical attacks.

Above all, participants in the policy debate should cease their smears that anyone who dares even to raise questions about Assad’s guilt regarding such war crimes is a “conspiracy theorist” whose arguments should be dismissed summarily. Fox News host Tucker Carlson is the latest target. America has had far too much of such myopic, intolerant groupthink and neo-McCarthyism regarding foreign policy. It is that kind of mentality that stifled meaningful debate about the disastrous drive to war in Iraq, and we are still paying a dire price. Let’s not repeat that folly in Syria.

Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow in defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute and a contributing editor at the National Interest, is the author of ten books, the contributing editor of ten books, and the author of more than 700 articles on international affairs.

Image: A man walks on rubble from damaged buildings in Douma, Syria, March 30, 2018. Reuters/Bassam Khabieh.