Again: U.S. investigating whether Assad used poison gas in Syrian rebel village this month

A grim complement to yesterday’s post about Obama’s “manhood problem” in the Middle East. What should he do about this to reassert American “manhood”?

The United States has indications that a toxic chemical, probably chlorine, was used in Syria this month and is examining whether the Syrian government was responsible, the U.S. State Department said on Monday…

Syrian opposition activists reported that helicopters dropped chlorine gas on Kfar Zeita on April 11 and 12. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, told ABC television’s “This Week” on April 13 that the attack was “unsubstantiated.”

Psaki said chlorine was not one of the priority one or two chemicals Syria declared to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) under a Russian-U.S. agreement for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile…

The Syrian government failed to meet a February 5 deadline to move all of its declared chemical substances and precursors, some 1,300 metric tons, out of the country. It has since agreed to remove the weapons by late April.

The gas attacks last summer that pushed the White House to the brink of bombing Assad involved sarin, a more lethal chemical than chlorine. Chlorine was, in fact, used repeatedly by Al Qaeda in Iraq beginning in late 2006 and on through the first half of 2007. (Chemicals that “smelled strongly of chlorine” have been used before in the Syrian civil war too.) It’s efficient at making people sick but usually doesn’t kill them; according to early reports, the attack in Kfar Zeita killed two and wounded up to 100, which fits the basic casualty pattern from chlorine. All of which is to say, Assad’s claim that jihadi rebels were behind the attack isn’t entirely out of left field. They proved eight years ago that they can get their hands on the chemical and that they’re willing to use it in certain circumstances. That’s the evergreen dilemma for U.S. intel in responding to WMD attacks in Syria: Since both sides are thick with degenerates, there’s no way to make an easy first-blush calculation of responsibility. The potential smoking gun in this case, I think, isn’t the chemical itself but the means of delivery. If it really was dropped by helicopter, then that’s Assad’s boys. If not, it could be a long investigation.

But let’s say it’s true — Assad did it. What’s O’s move now? We can take another look at arming the “moderate” rebels in the Free Syria Army, but how much do you trust them after their top commander was cashiered for being ineffective? If nothing else, arming them would theoretically make life for more difficult for our friend Vladimir, but then it would also make life more difficult for Iran, whose cooperation Obama is seeking on nukes. And don’t forget that Al Qaeda in Pakistan has been moving assets to Syria lately in hopes of setting up a base there amid the chaos. How should we play that one — send in weapons to “moderates” and hope hope hope that jihadis don’t end up confiscating them, or sit back, wait for AQ to get there, and then start droning away? Which response will impress our dear friends the Sunnis more vis-a-vis America’s “manhood”?

Exit question via Sally Kohn: Is the GOP trying to rhetorically emasculate Obama or something?

Update: A nice piece from Reuters on how chlorine fits through a loophole in Assad’s disarmament deal with the west. Since it has many industrial uses, he’s not required to cough it up the way he is, say, sarin. If it was his side that used it in Kfar Zeita — and Reuters says the evidence is mounting that it was — it may mean that he really has disgorged most of the highly dangerous stuff and has turned to chlorine as back-up.