The signs that Bashar al Asad is in serious trouble are many:
- His security forces are having a hard time securing the area around Damascus airport;
- They have lost a number of aircraft, helicopters and air force bases in recent days;
- Russian President Putin’s visit to Turkey has generated rumors that Moscow’s support for Asad is fading;
- Iran has intensified diplomacy with Turkey and Lebanon;
- President Obama has issued a stern warning about the use of chemical weapons:
None of these signs is definitive, but taken together they suggest that Syria’s ship of state is listing and could sink.
I’m not sure what to make of President Obama’s statement about chemical weapons. My initial inclination is to believe that we really do have intelligence that suggests Damascus is getting ready to use them. But then I remember the Tonkin Gulf incident and (non-existent) weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq. Could it be that Washington is preparing to use an alarm about chemical weapons to justify an intervention that it has decided it has to undertake, or at least to threaten, for other reasons?
The questions don’t stop with President Obama. Is Bashar al Asad really nuts enough to think he can poison his population into submission? Or does he diddle every once in a while with his chemical weapons stocks in order to jerk the Americans’ chain? Maybe even to test our intel capabilities? Or to try to restore the wall of fear that would enable him to rule once again?
Here is what the official Syrian news agency has to say about the use of chemical weapons:
FM: Syria Stresses It Won’t Use Any Chemical Weapons, If They Exist, against Its People No Matter the Circumstances
I’m finding it a bit difficult to picture the guy in Damascus who tweets this. Is it tongue in cheek? Or is he just reflecting what the Foreign Minister said as accurately as he can?
The last guy to make a statement of this sort on behalf of the Syrian government, in July, was Jihad Makdissi (it’s in the first few minutes of this newscast from July 23):
According to Rachel Maddow last night, he has now defected and left Syria. That’s another sign the Syrian ship of state is listing.