If there is one Obama foreign policy marked by disappointing diplomatic zigzags, hesitation, and potential danger to U.S strategic interests in the Middle East, it is what has passed as U.S. policy toward the Syrian civil uprising. As the death toll and human suffering reach epic proportions and (as I predicted a few weeks ago in this paper) undeniable evidence surfaces that Syria is fast becoming another al Qaeda staging ground, menacing alarm bells are finally, finally going off in Washington.
Better late than never!
Yet, what finally prompted President Obama to draw the first, credible (albeit high bar) straight line toward potential military intervention in Syria was not the staggering civilian Syrian death toll, nor the de facto collapse into utter lawlessness of the Syrian state outside Damascus, but disturbing intelligence reports that as Assad's predicament becomes more dire, he would deploy Syria's huge stockpile of internationally banned chemical and biological weapons against his opponents in a cataclysmic act of desperation or, worse, delegate the dirty deed (to deny culpability) to his partners-in-crime Hezbollah or the Iranian Revolutionary Guard or its Basij storm-troopers.
The possibility, however remote, that Iranian-backed Basij or Al Quds Revolutionary Guards forces or Hezbollah's terrorist military wing could get their hands on Syria's chemical or biological weapons constitutes a strategic threat not only to Turkey and Israel, but also to the United States and the West, given the growing presence of al Qaeda in Syria as civil authority disintegrates. Who is to say as utter chaos prevails throughout Syria what shady WMD deals would be struck just to keep the Assad regime from collapsing or, worse, to barter WMD for their eventual use in Syria or elsewhere?
From reports coming out of neighboring Lebanon and Turkey Assad has not ruled out such a desperate move, but he may not be calling the shots as his shrinking dictatorship-state disintegrates.
Fleeing high level defectors have indicated to various foreign media and intel sources that Assad's grip on power is rapidly evaporating. Free Syrian Army informants who have talked to western and Turkish intelligence operatives stationed on the other side of Syria's frontiers have stated that Assad's brother-enforcer Maher (who may have lost a leg in the Damascus blast that killed their brother-in-law), recently initialed a secret agreement with Iran and Hezbollah to move more heavily armed elements of their armed forces into Syria to buttress the regime's beleaguered troops and, in addition, to provide "guardianship" oversight over Syria's WMD stockpile to prevent any chemical or biological weapons from being "liberated" by the Free Syrian Army or other regime opponents.
Moreover, given our knowledge of Iran and Hezbollah terrorism strategies against their adversaries, any such pact of convenience Maher may have secretly entered into with Iran and Hezbollah could theoretically authorized either Iran or to Hezbollah to orchestrate a singular WMD attack at a specific target to provide the Assad regime plausible deniability that it was not responsible for using WMD, but rather "rogue" or "armed terrorists" in order to cause his opponents to retreat Saddam-style.
This threat is what prompted such high level presidential concern at the White House.
The president's red line may be real or merely bluff, but the proverbial cat may be out the bag since Assad may have nothing to lose by secretly passing WMD to his allies, and neither Hezbollah nor Iran care one iota about White House threats of military intervention, or so they may brazenly miscalculate.
The witches' brew of Hezbollah, Revolutionary Guards, al Qaeda and WMD should give pause to anyone who once hoped that the Syrian civil war could be brushed aside as an inconvenient but unworthy distraction during a presidential campaign.
Follow Amb. Marc Ginsberg on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@ambmcg