Last week, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said it was likely that chemical weapons (CW) had been used on a ‘small scale’ in Syria. President Obama claimed in August that the use of CW in Syria would change his calculus on U.S. intervention, but the intelligence must be examined carefully to assess whether his ‘red line’ on CW has actually been crossed.
The small amount of CW apparently used in Aleppo and Homs raises questions about the third standard: purposefulness. It is still unclear who launched the attack and why.Mark Fitzpatrick
Last Thursday, the White House said that although it was likely the nerve gas sarin had been used, the evidence was still too thin and that it needed ‘credible and corroborated facts’. President Obama is being pilloried in some quarters for not following through on his earlier red line. But after the misuse of intelligence to justify an invasion of Iraq ten years ago, the bar for concluding that Assad used chemical weapons must naturally be set high. The standard of evidence should meet at least three conditions: clear-cut evidence of use, meaningful quantity, and purposefulness.