When Using Chemical Weapons Is Smart Politics (How Assad Thinks)
Interview with NYU political scientist Alastair Smith, co-author with Bruce Bueno de Mesquita of The Dictators Handbook.
When Chemical Weapons Are Smart Politics
By Joshua Keating | Posted Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013, at 12:35 PM
In the two weeks since the gas attacks in the suburbs of Damascus that killed more than 1,000 people and may yet trigger a U.S. military response, a lot of people have been wondering what Bashar al-Assad could have been thinking. Given that President Obama had made it quite clear that the Syrian government could do whatever it wanted without triggering U.S. intervention except for using chemical weapons, why would he tempt fate? The question of motivations has even led some commentators to question if the Syrian government actually did carry out the attack, or whether the rebels themselves might have been trying to trigger an international intervention.
In the Syrian case, Smith told me that he thinks the use of chemical weapons was a risky but shrewd move that had less to do with punishing the rebels than with sending a signal to his core supporterspredominantly members of the Alawite religious sectand his most important international allies:
First of all, using chemical weapons has absolutely cemented that for Assad there can be no soft landing. That has two effects: Domestically, it has signaled to his coalition that they should stick with him. Hes there for the long run and theres no easy way out for him, so they know he wont desert them. These crimes against humanity have also made it very clear that its going to be very bad for the Alawites if theres any political transition, which makes them even more loyal to him. They have nowhere else to go.
Its also been a brilliant play internationally. The extent of the chemical weapons has not been so much that Obamas willing to put ground forces in. The airstrikes they are discussing are unlikely to be a decisive military factor. And Russia and Iran would love to snub the nose of the U.S. and this is a perfect way to do it. The U.S. is going to have to go it alone if they do it, and this is a great way for Russia and Iran to make the U.S. look impotent and pathetic. Russias going to continue supplying [Assad] with weapons and Irans going to keep supplying him with money. So this was actually a brilliant play from him.
If you take this view of Assads motivations, it doesnt bode well for the potential of U.S. airstrikes to change the dynamics of the conflict or even deter future chemical weapons use. Smith feels that Assad is probably terrified of losing some of his fighter jets, but theres only so much the U.S. can do. The more the U.S. tries to blow stuff up, the more the Iranians will give him money and the Russians will give him hardware.
This is exactly the question that I wanted answered. We think in terms of civil or human rights and the rule of law. But what you have in this OP does not take any of that into account.
As I have said before, I do not have any government or military training. The math on this is boogling. It's not about corporate profits, or any such thing.
Raw power maintaining itself, but I don't see where morals or public good falls into it. At least not as we are accustomed to think. I'm stunned at this logic here and it will take me a while to let this concept sink in.
This has nothing to do with equality or seeking a human solution. I'll put note of this in my Journal so I can come back to this here.