Given the insistence that Syria 2013 case ≠ Iraq 2002 case, it’s probably a good idea to make damn sure we know exactly what happened. But the AP has carefully documented the complete lack of “smoking gun” evidence tying it to the regime, though the Pentagon/White House previously declassified lots of satellite images from Syria for other purposes.
We do have reasonable certainty that chemical weapons were used and that they were most likely used by someone aligned with the regime. But we still have seen no evidence that this was ordered by the regime we’re about to “punish” and that it was not some renegade, unauthorized action by a pro-regime unit or commander with access to the chemical weapons. It’s a complicated, opaque conflict with tons of different factions. There’s a lot of reasonable doubt going around.
Here are some key pulls from the AP review:
The U.S. government insists it has the intelligence to prove it, but the public has yet to see a single piece of concrete evidence produced by U.S. intelligence – no satellite imagery, no transcripts of Syrian military communications – connecting the government of President Bashar Assad to the alleged chemical weapons attack last month that killed hundreds of people.
“Some experts think the size of the strike, and the amount of toxic chemicals that appear to have been delivered, make it doubtful that the rebels could have carried it out. What’s missing from the public record is direct proof, rather than circumstantial evidence, tying this to the regime.”
“We can’t get our heads around this – why would any commander agree to rocketing a suburb of Damascus with chemical weapons for only a very short-term tactical gain for what is a long-term disaster,” said Charles Heyman, a former British military officer who edits The Armed Forces of the U.K., an authoritative bi-annual review of British forces.
Multiple U.S. officials have told AP that the intelligence tying Assad himself to the Aug. 21 attack was “not a slam dunk” – a reference to then-CIA Director George Tenet’s insistence in 2002 that U.S. intelligence showed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction – intelligence that turned out to be wrong. They cite the lack of a direct link between Assad and the chemical assault – a question the administration discounts by arguing Assad’s responsibility as Syria’s commander in chief. A second issue is that U.S. intelligence has lost track of some chemical weaponry, leaving a slim possibility that rebels acquired some of the deadly substances.