The big news Wednesday was the reported chemical attack on the eastern outskirts of Damascus that may have killed more than 1000 people.

While a number of experts have expressed doubts about the details of the accounts of the attack, international opinion is coalescing that there was indeed a chemical weapons attack perpetrated by the government of Bashar Assad against rebel strongholds.

Internationally, it is France that is leading the call for intervention.
As Western powers pressed Syria to allow United Nations inspectors to examine the site of a possible poison gas attack outside the capital, Damascus, France said on Thursday that outside powers should respond “with force” if the use of chemical weapons was confirmed.
However noble the sentiment, France’s foreign minister ruled out sending in ground troops. And yesterday’s emergency Security Council meeting was unable to force an investigation due to vetoes of China and Russia. In other words, while there are UN inspectors investigating previous suspected chemical attacks, they will likely not be allowed to Damascus to check out the latest ones while the evidence is still fresh.

The editors of the Washington Post call on the United States to investigate the current incidents but fault President Obama for his tentative approach to Syria to date:
Two months later, even the small supplies of weapons promised by the president have yet to be delivered. And the regime, which has been battling to consolidate control over a strip of Syria extending from Damascus to the Mediterranean coast, may have been emboldened. Mr. Assad logically could have concluded that he had little to fear from the United States, even if chemical weapons use were escalated.
Bashar Assad
Bashar Assad -- He watches while Western leaders trip
all over themselves to do nothing. Credit: Wiki Commons

Jeffrey Goldberg and Walter Russell Mead have made similar observations.

Assuming that Bashar Assad apparently now thinks that he can act with impunity to consolidate his hold on Syria, what is the future Syria going to look like?

Andrew Tabler writes in The Day After Assad Wins:
Of course, if Assad manages to stay in power, his level of control over the country will never again be what it was before the war. In part, that is because his government’s geographic reach will be curtailed: Parts of the country (particularly in the northwest and along the Euphrates River) will remain under the control of the Syrian opposition — including organized terror groups — even if they have given up the immediate goal of toppling the Assad regime.

Even in those areas where Assad maintains control, his authority will be greatly diminished. He has waged all-out war against his own country, resorting to the use of Scud missiles and chemical agents against civilian populations. Those tactics may have helped him stay in power, but they will also cost him every last shred of popular legitimacy.

In turn, Assad will increasingly resort to brute force to demonstrate his authority to Syrians. His postwar reign of terror will likely target the majority Sunni population that has directed the uprising against him. The formerly “liberated” areas of Syria will probably have the most to fear.

If the regime makes an effort to retake these areas, even temporarily, it is easy to imagine thousands of Sunnis being rounded up and subjected to the nation’s archipelago of prisons and torture chambers. And that will likely lead to waves of refugees fleeing for safety to other opposition-controlled areas in Syria or to neighboring countries.
Additionally, Tabler speculates that areas of Syria not under Assad’s control will likely be controlled by Sunni Jihadist groups, like the one that reportedly fired four rockets into Israel Thursday. The Sunni Jihadist groups, in contrast to Assad, have been engaging in image improving efforts to boost their popular support.
Wednesday’s events could mark the beginning of a much worse future for Syria.

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