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Is there a moral case for a punitive intervention in Syria? One minute I think there is; and then I am not so sure…

Whatever we do, the people of Syria will remain victims of one of the most murderous political criminals—and also of the weakest international leadership—of modern times

By on Thursday, 29 August 2013

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

Where do you stand on the morality of a quick punitive strike against the Assad regime? Personally, I grow increasingly uncertain. I am not a pacifist: and I have to say that for us to be effectively punitive against Bashar al-Assad would serve him right and engender a certain degree of general righteous satisfaction, in which I would probably personally luxuriate as long as nobody except bad people get killed and the damage is done against Assad’s military assets, with maybe surgical strikes against one or two of his palaces thrown in. That would teach him not to use chemical weapons again: that would be a good thing, wouldn’t it?

What’s wrong with that? Well, I begin to suspect quite a bit: but then I read a persuasive argument in favour of what is being called a “limited intervention” in Syria , and I begin to doubt my own doubts. Take Monday’s leader in the Financial Times entitled “The moral case for intervention in Syria”, with the stand first “There are no good options but to do nothing is the worst.” I’m afraid I’m going to have to quote some quite lengthy passages today…

Of course the inspectors have to be given a chance to assess the situation. But they should be clear very quickly whether they believe the evidence has been compromised. That chemical weapons were used seems all but certain. The weight of evidence also points to culpability of the Assad regime. It controls enormous stockpiles of chemical weapons, has the military capability to deploy them, and was conducting an offensive in the area on the day of the attack.

Fragmented and ill-equipped rebel forces do not have the resources for such an offensive.

This is the basis on which the US, Britain and France are leading a push for targeted military action. Intervention is not about entering Syria’s civil war. It is about sending a message to rogue states that the use of WMD will not be tolerated… Since [Kosovo] the international community has accepted the principle that it has a responsibility to intervene to prevent atrocities such as those being inflicted on civilians in Syria.

Officials suggest intervention would be limited to a few targeted strikes on military assets – airfields or missile sites… While some will argue that such action is merely symbolic, it will send an important signal to the Assad regime – and other regimes – that the west cannot countenance the use of chemical weapons.

President Barack Obama has come reluctantly to the point of considering action despite his tough words last year that chemical weapons were a red line. Failure to act decisively would weaken his credibility further.

This is persuasive: but that final sentence starts my doubts up again. Obama, in his foreign policy, has been a weak president. If he had intervened in Syria by arming the rebels when they were still relatively respectable secularists, and before al-Qaeda and other Islamist murderers got so heavily involved, there might have been some hope of an Assad-free outcome that would not have been utterly disastrous. Obama has become more and more aware of the fact that his inaction has had disastrous consequences; and under pressure he last year finally declared a RED LINE, which if crossed would mean he would actually do something, irresistibly recalling to me at the time King Lear’s immortal words, “I will do such things — What they are yet I know not, but they shall be the terrors of the earth.” This would happen if Assad used chemical weapons against his own people. So now Obama has to do something to restore HIS OWN CREDIBILITY. That’s what this is all really about, isn’t it? Obama’s credibility. He doesn’t intend to topple Assad, or get involved in the war. Nothing will change. But next time he threatens something, he might have a chance of being believed. So we are intervening in support of Obama’s political credibility.

That at any rate is what I find myself suspecting. That wouldn’t necessarily convince me that Assad shouldn’t be punished for the atrocity of gassing his own people. But do we actually know that he did? The arguments that he did seem convincing. But I then discover that commentators I normally respect do not accept them. It isn’t, I find, just the Russians and the Chinese who say it was probably the rebels who did it. Here is Peter Oborne in the Telegraph

Mr Cameron first of all needs to show us that we have solid evidence, capable of standing up in a court of law, that proves his claim that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons on a large scale against its own people. On the face of things, it looks highly unlikely that Assad would have carried out such an action – let alone within three days of international inspectors arriving in Syria.

Consider this: the only beneficiaries from the atrocity were the rebels, previously losing the war, who now have Britain and America ready to intervene on their side. While there seems to be little doubt that chemical weapons were used, there is doubt about who deployed them. It is important to remember that Assad has been accused of using poison gas against civilians before. But on that occasion, Carla del Ponte, a UN commissioner on Syria, concluded that the rebels, not Assad, were probably responsible.

“The moral authority of Britain and America in the Middle East is shaky”, argues Oborne; there is, he says, “documentary evidence that the US helped Saddam Hussein’s Iraq launch a series of chemical weapons attacks upon Iran in the late 1980s, an offensive that killed approximately 20,000 Iranian troops”.

“Our moral indignation over chemical weapons”, he concludes, “looks selective”. And that, in the end, I think, decides it for me (until the next time I waver). The question is this: what makes us so sure that we are so clearly established on the international moral high ground that we are actually entitled to dish out retribution to anyone?

Do not mistake me: such “interventions” are not always morally wrong. What Cameron wants to do is, he genuinely believes, for reasons of high moral principle. But so was the imposition on our culture of “gay marriage”: we are entitled to ask ourselves whether or not we trust Cameron’s ideas of what moral principles actually are, any more than we would trust those of Tony Blair (a Prime Minister, who has been far more influential over Cameron, “the heir to Blair” don’t forget, than, say Margaret Thatcher).

“Tis a muddle, and that’s aw”, as Stephen Blackpool says in Dickens’s Hard Times. But he was thinking of the results of a policy of determined non-intervention, of unmitigated laissez-faire, of “letting alone”: of the attitude to society’s victims “Let ’em be. Let everything be. Let all sorts alone.” If we let Syria alone, it will remain in an appalling muddle: but so it will still be if we punish Assad, but leave him in place. And so it will still be if we topple him. All a muddle: and there is my highly illuminating conclusion. “Tis a muddle, and that’s aw”: at least I am ending with a quotation from Charles Dickens.

  • tlukemoore

    As a follower of the Prince of Peace I advocate peace and non intervention, Jesus did not advocate war and violence.

    2 reasons why military intervention in Syria is a bad idea:
    1.The history of Western intervention in the Middle East. The West in the past has helped Saddam and the Taliban. Any intervention risks being seriously counter-productive.
    2. The rebels appear to have a large Islamist element who may have chemical weapons themselves and persecuted Christians (a priest has been beheaded) and those who don’t subscribe to their particularly brand of Islam.
    3. Can anyone say how Syria directly and tangibly affects the national security of the United Kingdom without resorting to “well if we dont Y, X MIGHT happen”.

  • SimonS

    A punitive intervention is always wrong. Do the moral wrongs of others permit us to murder people to make us feel that we have done something?

    It may be possible to justify an intervention in Syria, but a military intervention always needs to be demonstrably the least-bad option (where doing nothing is one of the options).

    i) It may be reasonable to attack sharply as a disincentive for the Assad regime, or others, to use chemical weapons.

    ii) Would an intervention lessen or increase the death and destruction in Syria? This is not at all clear.

    iii) If an anti-chemical-weapons intervention instead becomes a vehicle for militant salafists to come into power, that will benefit noone. Least of all the shia muslims (there is a reason that Iran and russda are so strongly on the side of the Assad regime).

    The problem with Syria is that neither outcome of the war is desirable, and there is no clear pathway to ending it anyway. Whether we intervene or not.

  • Philippa

    “Any Western intervention in Syria would likely supply the death warrant for the ancient Christianity of the Middle East.” Philip Jenkins, Emeritus Professor of Humanities, Pennsylvania State University.

    I support the persecuted church in Syria, through Open Doors. I am against military action. Humanitarian aid to the people of Syria, yes. Military action, NO.

  • Acleron

    I think you have conclusively demonstrated that the use of any moral argument leads nowhere. The question should be, is there any action that will prevent the atrocity of poison gas being used again? Dropping explosives on Syria has not been shown to have any desired result. Even if Assad is shown to be guilty he will only pay attention to first his supporters ie Russia, Iran and Hezbollah and then to sufficient force to defeat him. So if we attack and he continues to use WMD then what? That question, when asked, shows the lack of forward thinking in the government’s ideas. There is no chance the UN will support a so called punitive action and even less a ground invasion. The best and least palatable option is to do nothing, unfortunately it will take a statesman to push that view in the face of American pressure and the inevitable accusations of cowardice.

    But humanitarian aid is another thing. The antidotes to Sarin are cheap and available in the West, if governments must drop something, then drop packs of atropine and pralidoxime, that will save more lives than bombs or missiles.

  • Sara_TMS_again

    ‘The antidotes to Sarin are cheap and available in the West, if
    governments must drop something, then drop packs of atropine and
    pralidoxime, that will save more lives than bombs or missiles.’

    Yes- and information on how to use them and what to do in case of attack- wash with soap and water, get onto high ground or upper storeys, not low ground or cellars, and other relevant info (see this week’s New Scientist).

  • Sara_TMS_again

    The Christians in the region have asked us not to attack Syria. That, for me, is a good enough reason not to, when there seem to be no really good reasons in favour.

  • la Catholic state

    as someone said…….nobody should go to the aid of those barbarians who shoot in cold blood 14 year old boys who make unoffensive joke s about Mohammed. The Pope is right……..negotiation is the only way.

    Not to mention, conversion to Christ!

  • Benedict Carter

    Poster Philppa says it for me. We should stay out of this.

  • Zelda Terrahawk

    If the West – including Obama – go in with all guns blazing in Syria, then they will be effectively fighting ON Al-Quaeda’s side!
    Talk about shooting yourself in the foot!

  • zoofood

    SPOT ON!!!!

  • bosco49

    Assure us, Mr. Cameron, that no innocent women and children will be killed by the ‘conventional weapons’ your punitive expedition will unleash to teach Mr. Assad a lesson that he cannot (if ever he did) kill women and children with poison gas.
    Assure us, Mr. Cameron, that the God you worship, i.e. the God of technology, will pinpoint only the ‘guilty’ or may we expect to see the bodies of women and children paraded on Syrian TV and YouTube once your God fails?
    God help the Christian community! All of the Christian Churches and their moral leaders are warning against this stampede to violence. Why then do you, Mr. Cameron, believe you occupy the moral high-ground?
    The world has gone stark raving mad.

  • bosco49

    Obama? ‘Guns blazing’? Never, Zelda!
    He’s the man who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize!
    The Man of Peace could never abide the slaughter of innocents! Just ask the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
    (By the way, Zelda, I’m a great admirer of F. Scott’s novels.)

  • PaulF

    Iraq, Tunisia, Egypt, Lybia … in each case a western friendly leader deposed and a door thrown wide open to our most dangerous enemies.
    To make the same mistake a fifth time in one decade would smell of something sinister. Demolition of military assets and regime change with a view to winning the business for replacement armaments?

  • $28180339

    We know that chemical weapons were used against 500+ people in (Syrian rebel territory). What we do not know is which side did the despicable deed.—-Assad or the rebels supported by the Muslim Brotherhood. Both sides are capable of killing their own to further their cause. For that reason the west should now stay out of it unless to bring both sides to the negotiation table peacefully.

    Mr Obama should have done something when Assad started his genocide of 100,000 Syrians which probably includes resettled Iraqis displaced by the 2003 Iraqi invasion .

    This eerily reminds me so much of Rwanda & Bill Clinton, both events showing how inept these American presidents are when it comes to foreign policy but using such international atrocities to further their political aspirations.

  • Nicolas Bellord

    When we are faced with some particularly ghastly event such as a couple torturing their child to death I go through two phases. First of all an emotional one where one thinks that hanging is too good for them but secondly reason comes into play and one looks for due process of law i.e. arrest, trial and punishment if convicted and certainly not capital punishment.

    My impression of Cameron yesterday was that he was in the first emotional state – horror! We must blast these guys to kingdom come. Fortunately sufficient MPs had reached the second stage when reason takes over. Action needs to be taken through the International Criminal Court against those believed responsible etc…

    In the old days faced with a particularly heinous crime there was a hue and cry or sheriff’s posse when a group of citizens would chase after and grab whoever they thought was most likely to have committed a crime and then possibly bring them to trial but most probably lynch them on the spot. The USA (the sheriff’s posse being deeply embedded in their psyche) and its allies seem to be acting in accordance with this primitive form of law enforcement instead of promoting a proper legal process by supporting the International Criminal Court whose jurisdiction they do not currently accept.

    Of course arraigning the culprits before the ICC may not have much effect but what else can one do? The speech by John Redwood was particularly good on the futility of lobbing cruise missiles which would do more harm than good

  • LocutusOP

    The answer to the headline (and I need not have read the entire piece to come to it, although I did) is simply NO!

    It’s good to finally see you opposing a war, Dr. Oddie, but I would have thought you would be more inclined to use the Church’s just war doctrine instead of citing the hesitation of the commentators you respect.

    Neither the U.K., the French nor the U.S. have any credibility whatsoever in international interventions and even if they did, using the Church’s just war doctrine as the criteria for deciding on intervention could lead to no other conclusion than that intervention would be completely unjustified. If the U.S. and the U.K. had not encouraged the rebels in the first place, we would not be in this mess.

  • Benedict Carter

    Why certainly not capital punishment?

  • Nicolas Bellord

    Simply because, as a lawyer, I fear that even with the one of the fairest systems of justice in the world there are still mistakes. You cannot undo a mistake if you have executed someone.

  • Zelda Terrahawk

    There are Islamist extremists in the rebel faction, including Al Quaeda.
    Obama is the most anti-life, anti-Catholic US President since its foundation.
    Slaughter of innocents – it matters to him not whether they are in the womb or born.
    If Obama is a man of peace, I’m a custard cream.

  • bosco49

    Glad you winkled-out my sarcasm, Zelda.

  • Norah

    It is extremely important to read the letter of the Patriarch of Baghdad, Louis Sako, published August 28 in Agenzia Fides. If the U.S. attacks Syria it will be a disaster for all the people, but especially for the Cristians who suffer violence and persecution from the jihad and Sunni militants who are supported by England, France, the U.S. How many Christian women and girls have been kidnapped and violated by these groups? How may turned out of their homes so the same rebels and the international terrorists who join them can take over? When the U.S. and their allies have done their work, they will have given what was a peaceful country over to terrorists, anarchy and chaos.

    Patriarch Sako’s letter is the most enlightened description of the situation and what will happen, but there are letters in the same tone from all Christian leaders and bishops of Syria and the Middle East. There are prayer vigils all over Syria begging God not to permit a foreign intervention. Let us join them.

  • Fr F Marsden


    It was with relief and joy that I heard the news that the UK Parliament
    had rejected the idea of armed intervention against Syria.

    1. It is the task of the United Nations and the International Court of Justice to tackle those who use forbidden chemical weapons against their own population.

    2. It is not the right of any individual state to take matters into its own hands.

    3. Any missile strikes by the USA et al. on Syria will inflame anti-Western feeling throughout the Arab world. Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq have all issued warnings and denied use of their air space.

    4. The civil war in Syria is multi-sided, not simply rebels vs the Assad regime. The rebel forces contain many jihadis and extreme Islamists who have been attacking Christians – Maronites, Armenians and Orthodox, and driving them from their homes.

    5. Leading bishops in Syria have begged the West not to supply weapons or intervene militarily, but to try to get the warring parties to negotiate. For this, Russian and even Chinese help might prove useful in the future.

    6. Unilateral military action by the USA undermines the UN and respect for international law. How would we feel if Russia were to bombard Columbia, or China to send forces into
    Congo, because of atrocities allegedly committed by someone there?

    7. In Vietnam the USA used agent orange, a chemical defoliant which killed 400,000 and caused 500,000 children to be born with birth defects; and thousands of tons of napalm. In Iraq they used depleted uranium armour-piercing rounds which are poisonous and weakly radioactive. Their long term effects are unknown, but may include genetic
    damage to children. Do they have the right to take the moral high ground?

    8. “Nothing is lost by peace: everything may be lost by war.” [Pope Pius XII] Imagine a scenario in which the USA hits Syria, Syria fires off missiles at Israel rather than have them destroyed first, Israel fires back at Syria, Iran and Egypt fire at Israel, the USA at Iran….. and Pakistan and Russia intervene?

    9. The United Nations Security Council needs reform, and a revision of the veto procedure. Permanent members should include India (1 bn population). Hasty steps which worsen relations between the key members should be avoided.

    10. The USA suffers from its ingrained gun culture. Hollywood seems intoxicated with films on war and hi-tech violence. Translating such behaviour into the real world easily proves disastrous.

    11. The UK should not behave as America’s lapdog. It is not the 51st State of the Union,
    even if it functions as one of her aircraft carriers.

  • Wanderer

    keep reading and hearing on the news that last night’s decision in
    parliament will diminish the UK’s importance in the world. I can’t think
    of a more open tacit admission of what this is really about: not
    protecting the innocent, not enforcing international law, but showing
    who’s boss. The irony is that for European countries this means
    cow-towing to US imperial ambitions. The UK has been pathetic for years,
    like a kid in the playground who’s full of himself because he got
    noticed by the school bully and is allowed to be a hanger-on. Now it’s
    France’s turn. apparently. Soyez les bienvenus.

  • zorrozmask

    Hear, hear!

  • Laurent

    Who are we to decide that this regime in Syria is worse that our own hypocritical western goverments who legalise the murder of our Intra uterine human beings(fetuses).We as christians in Europe have to woken up to our own evils . As we will be Judge by God and Jesusin the Second Coming.

  • Julian Lord

    OK, but the so-called “just war” is a war of defense against aggression, not a “shock and awe” bombing campaign destined to fill the coffers of the US Government and the US military-political complex and associated multinational corporations.

    Were you aware that the US Armed Forces are a profitable Big Business by means of the foreign aid that they receive for their interventions + war “reparations” ?

  • Benedict Carter

    Yes, that’s true. Glad though you are not against capital punishment on the basis of the Catechism’s statements on it, which do not at all reflect Tradition but the personal views of JP II.

  • LocutusOP

    In fairness, the Catechism is not against capital punishment, and does seem to leave it to the discretion of the society.

    What is the traditional view? I would like to know your take on it if you can express it in not too many words.

    I do agree with your scepticism regarding some of the wording in the Catechism though – on some sections it has very ambiguous wording, and it can be argued whether it presents the entirety of the teaching of the Catholic Church. On the other hand, we need to keep in mind that the Catechism is only a summary of the Church’s teaching….I suppose some explanations had to be abridged in less than satisfactory ways.

  • bosco49

    Is it only my impression, or does it seem to be the norm that powerful States only intervene militarily against nations they believe they can whip handily?
    I cannot imagine western military intervention in China, Pakistan, India, Russia, or Israel (or their regional client states such as Burma, N. Korea, Tibet, etc.) for gross human rights violations perpetrated against their respective citizens and ethnic minorities.
    As for Mr. Obama, ‘the Man of Peace’, while he pays lip-service to peace ‘he worships the god of forces’. Daniel 11:38

  • Nicolas Bellord

    France’s turn as the USA’s oldest ally? Just intervening in support of the rebels again!

  • Benedict Carter

    The first edition of this Catechism LocutusOP was manifestly and formally heretical.

    Much of the heretical material was deleted or amended in the “Compendium” that then had to be issued by Card. Ratzinger’s CDF to correct the Catechism but it still bases itself far, far too much on the personal theology of JP II and on Vatican II.

    Having listened to a Doctor (of both Thomist Theology and Canon Law) talking about JP II’s theology, I am moving to the opinion that he was a material if not a formal heretic. The Catechism reflects this, and capital punishment is one of these areas.

    The following quotations illustrate the actual teaching of the Church:

    St. Augustine (The City of God, Book 1, chapter 21

    The same divine authority that forbids the killing of a human being establishes certain exceptions, as when God authorizes killing by a general law or when He gives an explicit commission to an individual for a limited time.

    The agent who executes the killing does not commit homicide; he is an instrument as is the sword with which he cuts. Therefore, it is in no way contrary to the commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill’ to wage war at God’s bidding, or for the representatives of public authority to put criminals to death, according to the law, that is, the will of the most just reason.

    St. Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologiae, II, II, q. 64, art. 2)

    It is written: “Wizards thou shalt not suffer to live” (Ex. 22:18); and: “In the morning I put to death all the wicked of the land” (Ps. 100:8). …

    Every part is directed to the whole, as imperfect to perfect, wherefore every part exists naturally for the sake of the whole. For this reason we see that if the health of the whole human body demands the excision of a member, because it became putrid or infectious to the other members, it would be both praiseworthy and healthful to have it cut away. Now every individual person is related to the entire society as a part to the whole. Therefore if a man be dangerous and infectious to the community, on account of some sin, it is praiseworthy and healthful that he be killed in order to safeguard the common good, since “a little leaven corrupteth the whole lump” (1 Cor. 5:6).

    (Summa contra gentiles, Book III, chapter 146)

    The fact that the evil ones, as long as they live, can be corrected from their errors does not prohibit that they may be justly executed, for the danger which threatens from their way of life is greater and more certain than the good which may be expected from their improvement.

    They also have at that critical point of death the opportunity to be converted to God through repentance. And if they are so obstinate that even at the point of death their heart does not draw back from malice, it is possible to make a quite probable judgment that they would never come away from evil.”

    Innocent I (Epist. 6, C. 3. 8, ad Exsuperium, Episcopum Tolosanum, 20 February 405, PL 20,495)

    The first Pope to take a stand in favor of the death penalty was Innocent I in the year 405. In response to a query from the Bishop of Toulouse, Pope Innocent I based his position on Paul’s Letter to the Romans.

    He wrote: It must be remembered that power was granted by God [to the magistrates], and to avenge crime by the sword was permitted. He who carries out this vengeance is God’s minister (Rm 13:1-4). Why should we condemn a practice that all hold to be permitted by God? We uphold, therefore, what has been observed until now, in order not to alter the discipline and so that we may not appear to act contrary to God’s authority.

    Innocent III, (DS 795/425)

    The secular power can without mortal sin carry out a sentence of death, provided it proceeds in imposing the penalty not from hatred but with judgment, not carelessly but with due solicitude.

    Pius XII (Address to the First International Congress of Histopathology of the Nervous System, 14 September 1952, XIV, 328)

    Even in the case of the death penalty the State does not dispose of the individual’s right to life. Rather public authority limits itself to depriving the offender of the good of life in expiation for his guilt, after he, through his crime, deprived himself of his own right to life.

    Catechism of the Council of Trent (1566, Part III, 5, n. 4)

    The power of life and death is permitted to certain civil magistrates because theirs is the responsibility under law to punish the guilty and protect the innocent. Far from being guilty of breaking this commandment [Thy shall not kill], such an execution of justice is precisely an act of obedience to it. For the purpose of the law is to protect and foster human life. This purpose is fulfilled when the legitimate authority of the State is exercised by taking the guilty lives of those who have taken innocent lives.

    In the Psalms we find a vindication of this right: “Morning by morning I will destroy all the wicked in the land, cutting off all evildoers from the city of the Lord” (Ps. 101:8).

  • Nicolas Bellord

    Let us all join President Obama in praying that Congress will let him off the hook by voting NO to military intervention. (And won’t he be grateful to Cameron for showing him the way.)

  • LocutusOP

    Thank you!

    I have been planning to purchase a copy of the Catechism of the Council of Trent, to compare it with the present Catechism. Though I’ve never read it much, I get the feeling that it’s much clearer on many issues than our present one, at least with regard to the moral law.

    Still, the new Catechism contains explanations of dogmas defined after that council, as well as reflections by Saints…So it has its merits.

  • LocutusOP

    Objectively speaking, of course, it is not.

    The major Western powers have no moral right to lecture others on the sanctity of life – especially not when they’re led (as they are presently) by the foremost promoter(s) of the culture of death.

  • Benedict Carter

    There is a case for arguing that poison gas is the least inhumane weapon used in non-nuclear modern war. The argument has run since the first yellow clouds rolled towards the British trenches at Second Ypres in the Spring of 1915.

    Because of the devastating nature of the weapon, it is far more likely to force a battlefield result, and hence end the fighting much more quickly, than a protracted battle or campaign using small and medium arms, which are just as likely to kill civilians.

    I offer up this view for discussion, it’s not necessarily my own opinion. However, I would point out that for all Obama’s, Kerry’s, Hollande’s, Hague’s and Cameron’s blather about how poison gas is “obscene”, I would myself say that biological weapons are far worse, and anyway, the hypocrisy of these supporters of the murder of millions through abortion merely makes this writer at least want to vomit.

    Putin is right, on this at least. Get the intelligence that Assad did it in front of the UN.

  • Benedict Carter

    Nail on head.

  • Julian Lord

    Poison gas IS a biological weapon, Ben, but you’re otherwise of course 100% right in your condemnation of this revolting hypocrisy.

    Poison gas is about as “humane” as subjecting people to massive bursts of gamma radiation, intensive heat, explosive force, and vast clouds of radioactive dust.

  • Benedict Carter

    In military terms – rubbish. Anything that kills you then is a biological weapon, including a bullet or a knife. Try Julian not to latch onto one word and fly off into some irrelevancy as you so often do. The difference between chemical (nerve gas, sarin etc) and say bubonic plague is obvious.

  • Nesbyth

    Peter Oborne’s argument comes down to “cui bono”….who benefits from this gas attack?
    And indeed it is the rebels who have the sympathy of the Western powers and the Sunni Arabs; they are the beneficiaries in this appalling matter.
    So we are right to wait and see what, if anything, the UN weapons’ inspectors can tell us.

  • Nesbyth

    Excellent and wise post. You have mentioned everything that matters.

  • Jonathan West

    This is persuasive: but that final sentence starts my doubts up again. Obama, in his foreign policy, has been a weak president. If he had intervened in Syria by arming the rebels when they were still relatively respectable secularists, and before al-Qaeda and other Islamist murderers got so heavily involved, there might have been some hope of an Assad-free outcome that would not have been utterly disastrous.

    It’s a pity that you don’t think that secularists in this country are respectable!

  • Julian Lord

    A poison is a pathogen.

    But I fail to see how disagreement with your odd assertion that poison gas attacks are “the least inhumane weapon used in war” might be an “irrelevancy”.

  • Benedict Carter

    No, that’s not the irrelevancy. The irrelevancy is trying to posit that chemical warfare is biological warfare. I despair.

  • Julian Lord

    trying to posit that chemical warfare is biological warfare

    ah, I see. Well be clearer in your own objections next time ? :-)

    Nope, NOT my intention, at all.

  • Martlet

    Except that Syria is no friend of the West. It is a supporter of state-sponsored terrorism and has never lost the desire to eradicate Israel from the face of the earth.

  • John Fisher

    Yes a very very good post!