Assad Uses Poison Gas Again. What is Obama Going To Do?

Bodies of people killed by nerve gas in the suburb of Zamalka in Damascus, Syria, on August 21, 2013. Syrian activists accused President Bashar al-Assad's forces of launching the gas attack that killed more than 200 people. The author writes that the continued use of sarin gas, if confirmed, gives the lie to the claim that all the chemical weapons and poison gas were removed from Syria under U.S. eyes. reuters

This article first appeared on the Council on Foreign Relations site.

"We struck a deal where we got 100 percent of the chemical weapons out," said Secretary of State Kerry about Syria almost two years ago.

This was in part a defense of President Obama's infamous failure to enforce his "red line" against the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime. Kerry struck a deal with Russia, and proudly claimed that this was a far better approach. No use of military force, better result.

Except that it isn't so. The Assad regime has used another form of chemical weapons time after time: chlorine.

And now, it has returned to using sarin gas. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported this on May 3:

A little over a week ago, Syria's embattled Assad regime used chemical arms against ISIS east of Damascus, despite the 2013 agreement to dismantle the regime's chemical weapons. The regime apparently decided to use the lethal gas sarin after ISIS fighters attacked two Syrian air force bases considered vital military assets.

The questions present themselves: What do Obama and Kerry plan to do about it? This use of sarin gas, if confirmed, gives the lie to the claim that all the chemical weapons and poison gas were removed, and reminds us once again of the "red line" fiasco.

The lesson it teaches enemies and allies alike is that the threats and pledges of the president are not to be taken very seriously. Far worse, of course, the lesson for other regimes may be that using chemical weapons is possible—and will not be punished. This too may become part of the Obama foreign policy legacy.

So is it true that sarin was used, as Haaretz reported? Has the administration moved fast to find out, or does it not wish to know?

Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.