The United States now believes “with varying degrees of confidence” that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons against its people, according to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and the White House. Hagel, speaking to reporters in Abu Dhabi, also said the U.S. government believes “any use of chemical weapons in Syria very likely originated” with President Bashar Assad. [USA Today]


IT IS a statement ripe with caveats, but the shift to calling Syria out by Secretary Hagel is chilling when you follow it to the question, now what? What was speculated about for months has now tipped to “varying degrees of confidence” that sarin gas has been used.

Hagel went on to say that if conclusively proven, this “violates every convention of warfare,” because what’s being used is “uncontrollable, deadly weapons.”

Hagel said the decision to conclude chemical weapons use by the Syrian government was “reached in the last 24 hours.”

“The intelligence community has been assessing information for some time on this issue,” he said, adding that intelligence is still being analyzed to determine when and under what circumstances the weapons were used.

Several analysts, including former CIA agent Bob Baer, speculated today that the small amounts now believed to have been used was President Bashar Assad testing the international community to see how the world would react. If nothing is done there is little doubt Assad will go further.

That was underscored by a White House official briefing reporters on background on Thursday afternoon. The official, who refused to be quoted by name, said that the next step for the administration would be “further investigation,” including by the United Nations, to confirm that chemical weapons were used deliberately by the Assad regime. – Syrian Blood Tests Positive for Sarin Gas US Spies Say

What President Obama will now do is difficult to say, because he’s backed into a tight spot, the option to do nothing clearly not one he can entertain at this point, but waiting for the U.N. report is equally difficult. The U.N. is already investigating chemical weapons in the attack on Aleppo.

One intelligence source told Wired’s Danger Room that any clear signal from President Obama “…could bias the investigation and hurt the U.N.’s ability to get in country.”

That describes a scenario that includes time and the option to wait until Assad allows U.N. inspectors inside Syria and into areas they need to go.

“Now that we have confirmed their use, the question is what is our plan for transition to a post-Assad Syria? I have laid out several steps, short of boots on the ground. The world is waiting for American leadership.” – Rep. Mike Rogers