It seems as though the United States has some evidence that the chemical attack in Syria was not ordered at the highest levels of the government. Rather, U.S. intelligence intercepted the following last Wednesday, August 21: “In the hours after a horrific chemical attack east of Damascus, an official at the Syrian Ministry of Defense exchanged panicked phone calls with a leader of a chemical weapons unit, demanding answers for a nerve agent strike that killed more than 1,000 people.”
Now, it would be a screw-up of unprecedented proportions for a regime to use chemical weapons by order of a low-ranking Army officer. One might imagine how it could happen in the midst of an invasion from another state, during which all sorts of authority would be pushed down the chain of command. Letting it happen during a civil war when your side is gaining the initiative and against civilians is criminal stupidity.
If correct, however, it changes my calculus regarding a punitive strike ... but only a little. Criminal stupidity deserves punishment to make sure that it does not happen again. I think. (Counterarguments welcome!)
But if lower-downs were responsible, it opens a way for the Syrian government to avoid a strike. Consider that when the Zetas accidently ambushed USDA vehicles in Tamaulipas, they released the Americans and apologized. When the Zetas idiotically shot and killed an ICE agent in San Luis Potosí, the Zetas practically handed the man responsible over to American authorities. That is, in fact, Zetas SOP for anything that might bring down the heat from either the United States or the Mexican industrial elite. (See page 5.) If your people do something stupid that could cause trouble for the organization, kill them or turn them in.
If it is true that low-level Syrian officers ordered the use of sarin without higher approval, then Assad could take a page from the Zetas’ book and turn those officers over to the International Criminal Court. It would be strongly in his interest both in terms of winning propaganda points and heading off intervention. Moreover, the ICC might refuse to take them, in which case it is win-win-win for Mr. Assad.
He won’t do the above, of course, because that would mean conceding that the Syrian state has no right to use chemical weapons despite having refused to sign any of the international conventions on the subject. He should, the weapons serve no real purpose, but he won’t.
Miguel Angel Treviño may have been a better student of the dictator’s handbook than Bashir Assad. Which is somewhat sad.