“Indignation is not enough,” said Le Monde (France) in an editorial. The world has seen the videos of “children suffocating in agony,” of men “with bulging eyes, their bodies wracked by convulsions.” The Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad had already been using chemical weapons on a small scale against civilians and rebel troops for months. Yet each time an allegation surfaced, Western leaders muttered that there was no proof. No wonder Assad “deduced that an escalation would be no more troublesome.” Now we see hundreds of bodies piled up.
It may seem unjust, said Natalie Nougayrède, also in Le Monde, to say that the deaths of a few hundred people by gas demand a stronger response than the slaughter of the 100,000 Syrians killed by conventional means over the past two years. But chemical warfare is uniquely barbaric. “Not to respond strongly to the Syrian chemical event would pave the way for a new era of savagery.” It would tell Iran and North Korea, for example, that they can unleash weapons of mass destruction with no fear of consequences.
That’s why we must act, said Tony Blair in The Times (U.K.). The West has so far been governed by those who say the Syrian conflict is too complex and messy to get involved in. “But others are taking sides. They’re not terrified of the prospect of intervention.” They are arming the regime and supporting “an assault on civilians not seen since the dark days of Saddam.” If Western powers don’t come to the aid of those oppressed people, it will be to our own detriment. We will see a Syria “disintegrated, divided in blood, the nations around it destabilized, waves of terrorism rolling over the population of the region.”
Hold your fire, said Stanislav Khatuntsev in Izvestiya (Russia). There’s simply no proof that the Assad regime used chemical weapons. The so-called evidence comes from Ahmad al-Jarba, a Syrian rebel leader who is a convicted drug smuggler as well as “a known stooge” of Saudi intelligence. It simply makes no sense that Assad would unleash chemical weapons the very same week he allowed U.N. weapons inspectors into the country. But there’s “plenty of reason for the rebels to use them at that moment,” to frame Assad and draw in Western airstrikes. Let’s not forget that most of the victims are Kurds—a group the Islamist rebels despise. In fact, Islamists have committed ethnic cleansing against the Syrian Kurds over the past two weeks, driving tens of thousands of them into Iraqi Kurdistan. Who’s to say the Islamists didn’t drop the gas?
That’s a fair point, said Christophe Lamfalussy in La Libre Belgique(Belgium). Circumstantial evidence does point to the Assad regime, but Syria is complicated: Four intelligence services, several independent regime-allied militias, and various warring rebel groups could be to blame. If Assad used gas, we should deal with him—but we must be sure it was him. “Caution here is not a sign of weakness.” It is an indispensable “first step.”