The Obama administration and United Nations are separately investigating alarming allegations of chemical weapons use in the 2-year-old Syrian civil war, which could lead to a shift in U.S. policy.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and rebel forces each accused the other side of using chemical weapons in an attack on Tuesday. The claims could not be immediately verified, but President Obama speaking in Israel put greater credence on rebel charges that the Assad regime was behind them.
We know the Syrian government has the capacity to carry out chemical weapon attacks, President Obama said. I am deeply skeptical of any claim that in fact it was the opposition that used chemical weapons. Everybody who knows the facts of the chemical weapons stockpiles inside of Syria as well as the Syrian government capabilities, I think, would question those claims.
U.N. Secretary Ban Ki-moon called any use of chemical weapons a crime against humanity to be investigated through the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
For now, American analysts doubt chemical weapons have been used, but President Obama has called their use a game changer for the United States, which so far has refused to become militarily involved in the conflict that has claimed an estimated 70,000 lives. The United States is providing non-lethal aid to the rebels in addition to the humanitarian aid already given, but that could change.
The top American commander in Europe said last week that several NATO countries are considering contingency plans for possible involvement to end the war.
Adm. James Stavrdis, commander of the U.S. European Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that NATO nations were discussing among themselves an arms embargo, military aid to the rebels and creating a no-fly zone as was done in Libya in 2011 rather than sending in ground troops. Military leaders have said previously that a no-fly zone over Syria would be much more difficult to enforce than in Libya due to Syrias better air defenses. The United States, though, has supplied Patriot missile batteries in Turkey to defend against possible Syrian incursion or target Syrian aircraft in the border region .
Any escalation of international intervention would require U.N. Security Council approval, which is unlikely since Russia, an ally of President Assad, holds a veto.
President Obama has left open the possibility of deepening American involvement, but he is right with a more cautious approach that rejects sending American troops into another conflict.