While the administration is preoccupied with ingratiating itself with the Mullahs in Tehran and alienating the elected government in Jerusalem, Bashar al-Assad’s pariah government continues its spree of brazenly defying and aggressing against the United States with near impunity.
Barack Obama’s infamous decision to avoid following through with promised consequences for Assad’s crossing of his “red line” by repeatedly using chemical weapons on civilians has had repercussions that continue to reverberate well beyond Syria’s borders. Perhaps calculating that the president blinked once and is presently focused on containing ISIS inside Syria and Iraq, Assad’s regime continues to defy the West by allegedly deploying chlorine gas on civilian targets.
On Thursday, Bloomberg’s Josh Rogin summarized Assad’s latest violation of international norms by using chemical weapons on civilians:
Two weeks ago, the U.S. got the United Nations Security Council to adopt calling on the Syrian regime to cease dropping barrel bombs filled with chlorine gas on civilians. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said the resolution, which passed 14-1 and was endorsed by all the permanent members including Russia, “made it crystal clear that the use of chlorine weapons was no less evil than that of chemical weapons.”
Yet on Monday, Assad’s military killed at least six civilians, including three children, and injured dozens with a chlorine gas bomb attack in the northwestern city of Sarmeen, according to activists on the ground and independent monitoring groups such as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Syrian government denied the claims.
“Assad is testing the new red line,” Noura al-Ameer, a leader of the Syrian Opposition Coalition, told me Wednesday. Until this year, she was vice president of the group, which Obama has recognized as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
This latest brazen episode of insolence was not the only episode this month exemplifying the level of contempt Assad has for American power. Though Pentagon officials have not officially confirmed it, reports strongly indicate that an American drone was shot down by pro-Assad’s forces over Syria.
The drone appears to belong to European Command, according to a senior military officer who was not authorized to speak on the record. Central Command is conducting the air war in Syria. European operates in neighboring Israel and Turkey, lending credence to the idea that the drone might have veered off course.
If the drone veered into sensitive airspace by mistake, the calculation would change. In that case, the daily airstrikes taking place there could continue with few changes. The Predator, an older model drone, is being phased out in favor of larger, faster, unmanned aircraft, and its wreckage would be of little value to the Syrians.
Syria has sophisticated air defenses that it considers sensitive, U.S. military officials have said. Most of those areas are found in the east, in and around the capital of Damascus to protect people and infrastructure vital to the regime of Bashar Assad.
If Assad’s forces were responsible for the intentional downing of an American unmanned aircraft, it would be a major provocation that would demand a response. But the same could be said for Assad’s repeated use of chemical weapons on civilian and rebel targets alike. At this point, it’s justified to presume that no American response will be forthcoming.