McClatchy reports Intercepted call bolsters Syrian chemical-weapons charge, Germans say "According to Der Spiegel, one of the parties in the intercepted phone call was a ‘high-ranking member of Hezbollah,’ the militant Lebanese movement that’s sent fighters to support the Assad government. That Hezbollah member told the Iranian that ‘Assad had lost his temper and committed a huge mistake by giving the order for the poison gas use,' according to the magazine’s account."
"But the German account and the American one suggest that the inability of Assad’s regime to take control of the eastern Damascus suburbs after months of attempts drove a decision to use chemical weapons. An unclassified French intelligence summary also suggested that the failure to unseat the rebels lay behind the Aug. 21 attack. It called the use of chemical weapons followed by a ground offensive “a classic tactical scheme” consistent with Syrian military doctrine."
"The German account goes further than others that have been released recently in providing details of Assad’s state of mind that might have played a role in the motivation for launching a chemical attack, noting that Assad sees himself embroiled “in a crucial battle for Damascus.” It also said Assad’s forces had used a highly diluted chemical agent in previous attacks on rebels and that the high death count Aug. 21 might have been the result of “errors made in the mixing of the gas” that made it “much more potent than anticipated.” That would be consistent with a suggestion from an Israeli official, cited by The New York Times, that the attack was “an operational mistake.”"
Ezra Klein gives some history, Why Do We Even Care About Syria’s Chemical Weapons?
"The ban on chemical weapons, in other words, is proof that humanity can make war a little more decent. Consequently, its continued success is vital to all future efforts to make war a little more decent. There is a kind of beauty in that, but much less so when you recall the 100,000 Syrians killed by nonchemical weapons.
The U.S. is now debating a military campaign that marries the highest, most abstract idealism to the harshest, most unsettling pragmatism: Obama wants to punish Assad for violating the abstract norms of war even as he leaves Assad capable of continuing his massacre by more conventional means. This is why there is no enthusiasm for intervening in Syria: Making the decision to punish Assad means explicitly making the decision not to stop him. The brutality of what we are willing to accept tarnishes the better world we seek to preserve."
Ezra also wrote Why the very bad arguments for intervening in Syria matter which might be my favorite piece on the topic so far.
"I spent much of Wednesday reading through the transcript of the Senate Foreign Relation’s Committee’s four-hour hearing on Syria. All I could think was, “Good ideas do not need lots of lies told about them in order to gain public acceptance.” Longtime blogosphere obsessives will remember that line. Daniel Davies wrote it in 2004, in a justly famous blog post about the Iraq War. His point was that if the Iraq war was such a good idea, its proponents wouldn’t need to tell so many false stories about why they were doing it and what it would accomplish to win over the public."
The rest is good, going over the arguments used in the hearings. Read it.
Lydia DePillis spoke with Anthony Cordesman, A military expert explains how Syria missile strikes might actually work.