Buried deep in the article, in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it fashion, is the fact that they began doing this roughly a year ago. Coincidentally, it was also roughly a year ago that President Bumblefark idly floated the idea of a “red line” for Syria’s WMD at a White House presser. Rather than keep his cards close to his vest for strategic reasons, he chose to try to intimidate Assad into not using gas. Assad responded logically enough by dispersing his weapons and now here we are, with the task of going in and grabbing them much more complex than it might otherwise have been.
You would have thought Obama might have learned his lesson about this from Pakistan, which has for years engaged in the insane practice of constantly moving its nuclear weapons around the country for fear that the U.S. will launch a surprise raid to confiscate them. If a rogue power has reason to think America has designs on its WMD, it’s going to take evasive action. And that evasive action is itself hugely dangerous, of course, insofar as having nuclear or chemical weapons in transit increases the risk of jihadis grabbing them via an accident or a surprise raid of their own. So, all in all, excellent work here, champ.
That said, this passage is a perfect distillation of why the U.S. has so few options in Syria. The only thing worse than not having murderous Shiite thugs in charge of poison gas is … not having them in charge:
The movements, activities and base locations of Unit 450 are so sensitive that the U.S. won’t share information with even trusted allies in the opposition for fear the unit would be overrun by rebels, said current and former U.S. officials.
The U.S. wants any military strikes in Syria to send a message to the heads of Unit 450 that there is a steep price for following orders to use chemical weapons, U.S. officials said.
At the same time, the U.S. doesn’t want any strike to destabilize the unit so much that it loses control of its chemical weapons, giving rebels a chance to seize the arsenal.
“Attacking Unit 450, assuming we have any idea where they actually are, would be a pretty tricky affair because…if you attack them you may reduce the security of their weapons, which is something we certainly don’t want,” said Jeffrey White, a veteran of the Defense Intelligence Agency and a defense fellow at The Washington Institute.
We trust our own de facto allies there to be responsible stewards of chemical weapons less than we trust the people we’re thinking of bombing. Plus, we need Unit 450 in place in the unlikely event that UN negotiations eventually lead to some half-assed attempt to disarm Assad. If we liquidate the unit from the air, there’s no one left on the ground to guide UN inspectors to the stockpiles.
In fact, according to the Russian plan leaked to Time magazine, sounds like Unit 450 is sort of expected to … disarm itself:
According to the Russian diplomat Alexei Pushkov, who discussed the outlines of the proposal with TIME, it includes several complicated phases and gives Syria a leading role in the destruction of its own chemical arsenal. The American side, meanwhile, has one trump card in these negotiations — the threat of a military strike against Syria. But Russia seems ready to call that a bluff. “If the US wants to play the main fiddle here, let them go ahead and occupy Syria like they did Iraq or destroy it from the air like they did in Libya,” says Pushkov, who is the chairman of the foreign affairs committee of Russia’s parliament, the State Duma. “Those are their only two options for taking the lead at this point.”…
Pushkov, however, said that by the time the inspectors arrive at the chemical weapons sites inside Syria, the question of their destruction will become practically irrelevant. “If we are to believe President Obama, the main goal in all of this is to prevent the use of these chemical weapons,” he says. “After the inspectors arrive in Syria and start working at places where the chemical weapons are stored, it will already be practically impossible to use them.” Pushkov would not elaborate on whether the Russian plan call specifically for their destruction, nor did he offer a clear time frame within which the process could take place.
So Syria’s going to let its arsenal be neutralized somehow but maybe not destroyed? And they’re going to take a “leading role” in this vis-a-vis the UN? What?
Increasingly it seems like there are only two likely outcomes here. Either Obama’s going to end up bombing Assad anyway or he’s going to have to tolerate further humiliation at the UN. Not much middle ground.