The isolationist right and the indifferent left have let it be known that it’s not a good idea to do anything effective to rid Syria and the world of the butcher of Damascus. Yesterday, if it was not previously clear, we saw why this is moral and strategic madness.

Forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. (Rami Bleible/Reuters)

The New York Times reports:

The Syrian government pounded rebellious areas east of the capital, Damascus, early Wednesday, and antigovernment activists said some rockets included chemical weapons that killed scores of people, and possibly hundreds.

Photographs and videos showed rooms full of lifeless bodies laid out in rows, some wrapped in white cloths, others lined up in mass graves. Some showed victims staring and motionless, others twitching uncontrollably.

The count may be as high as 1,000. The magnitude and time of the attack (early morning to cut down on the likelihood winds would blow the poison away) leave outside experts to conclude this is the largest chemical weapons attack since 1998 when Saddam Hussein gassed the Kurds.

This is the monstrous government that Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Gen. Martin Dempsey (clearly serving up what the administration wants to hear) contends is not in our interest to remove. What can you say to people who prefer Iran’s junior partner who has now crossed and re-crossed the red line, opening the Pandora’s box of widespread use of WMD’s?

A former U.S. official critical of the Obama administration and not prone to alarmism told me Wednesday, “I am very worried about Syria. If it is accurate that they did a big chemical attack, our inaction in response further destroys our credibility, tells the Iranians to go full steam ahead, and undermines the world’s taboo against CBW [chemical and biological weapons] — in place since the revulsion caused by poison gas in WWI.” He added, “And it tells the Syrian rebels they are dead men.”

So what did the White House say. I’ll reprint it in total so you see how spineless the president is:

The United States is deeply concerned by reports that hundreds of Syrian civilians have been killed in an attack by Syrian government forces, including by the use of chemical weapons, near Damascus earlier today.  We are working urgently to gather additional information.

The United States strongly condemns any and all use of chemical weapons.  Those responsible for the use of chemical weapons must be held accountable.  Today, we are formally requesting that the United Nations urgently investigate this new allegation.  The UN investigative team, which is currently in Syria, is prepared to do so, and that is consistent with its purpose and mandate.  For the UN’s efforts to be credible, they must have immediate access to witnesses and affected individuals, and have the ability to examine and collect physical evidence without any interference or manipulation from the Syrian government.  If the Syrian government has nothing to hide and is truly committed to an impartial and credible investigation of chemical weapons use in Syria, it will facilitate the UN team’s immediate and unfettered access to this site.  We have also called for urgent consultations in the UN Security Council to discuss these allegations and to call for the Syrian government to provide immediate access to the UN investigative team.  The United States urges all Syrian parties including the government and opposition, to provide immediate access to any and all sites of importance to the investigation and to ensure security for the UN investigative team.

Deeply concerned. And what is worse, we apparently have no capability — or desire — to confirm the obvious; instead we bring in the United Nations whose inspectors are already in Syria — not allowed out of their hotel.

The conservative Foreign Policy Initiative, harkening back to Obama’s pledge of a world without nukes and other pie-in-the-sky promises, frets: “If the Obama administration
does not act decisively in response to this latest outrage, then it is hard to
imagine that the moderate forces among the opposition will long last against
the combined onslaught of Assad’s forces and the al Qaeda-backed
extremists. Left unchecked, these combined forces will soon create in
Syria what the United States has spent decades trying to avoid: the use of
weapons of mass destruction (WMD) by a rogue regime, the emergence of safe
havens for terrorists in failed states, and terrorist access to WMD.” FPI concludes: “Of course, such a demonstration of American impotence will have consequences
for other cases where the United States has set ‘red lines,’ most notably in
the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program. Failure has consequences, and it is
such tragedies as [Tuesday’s] attack that brings them into focus.”

But Assad, the rebels, the Iranians and indeed the whole world know President Obama’s words are empty. Once some (just a little!) chemical weapons were used without consequence then Assad knew he could up the ante, which he did in gruesome fashion.

The part about national security that isolationists don’t understand is that sooner or later we must act. But by delaying, excuse-mongering and refusing to act sooner rather than later we erode our moral standing, allow great evils to unfold and make eventual action much more complicated. Syria is the quintessential example of why the Obama-Rand Paul national security view is dangerous and leads to heinous results.