Strategically, why would Syria have used chemical weapons on a 'small scale'?

The United States now says it has evidence that Syria used chemical weapons on a "small scale" -- an announcement that follows similar declarations by the French, British, Israelis, and Qataris. But the question no one has been able to answer is this: Why would Bashar al-Assad have used chemical weapons on a small scale after repeated warnings from Barack Obama that any use of chemical weapons would be a "game-changer" for the United States?

It's a puzzle that baffled Ralf Trapp, a consultant and renowned expert on chemical weapons, who spoke with Foreign Policy over the phone from Geneva. "From a military perspective, it doesn't make sense to use chemical weapons bit by bit," he said. "Why would the regime just put it on a grenade here or a rocket launcher there? It's just not the way you'd expect a military force to act."

But that's precisely the scale at which the United States says Assad is using chemical weapons. "The U.S. intelligence community assesses with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale, specifically the chemical agent sarin," said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, speaking to reporters in Abu Dhabi.  

From Trapp's perspective, the tactical purpose of chemical weapons is to inflict mass casualties. Since Assad is more than capable of killing rebels in small doses, why would he deploy a small amount of chemical weapons when it runs the risk of inviting a U.S. military intervention?

It's obvious by Assad's attempts to court U.S. media that he desperately wants the United States to butt out of Syria's civil war. In today's New York Times, Anne Barnard gives a fascinating window into Syria's charm offensive to convince reporters that U.S. support for the rebels is against its own interests. Additionally, Russia, an ally Syria can't afford to lose, has also warned the regime against using chemical weapons.

Tactically speaking, using chemical weapons on a limited scale could instill fear in the populace. But is that benefit for the Assad regime worth the cost of provoking the United States and angering Russia?



At Bush library, Condoleezza Rice to defend enhanced interrogation practices

Not sidestepping controversy, Condoleezza Rice will defend the Bush administration's enhanced interrogation and rendition program at the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on Thursday.

The remarks will appear in a five-minute video presentation, which was obtained by Foreign Policy in advance of the dedication. In the clip, Rice emphasizes Bush's deep commitment to civil liberties and national security while making "difficult decisions" following the Sept. 11 terror attacks. She also claims the interrogation program prevented future attacks on the homeland. 

"The president asked two very important questions in the decision to use these techniques," says Rice of her former boss's interrogation program. "He asked the CIA if it was necessary and he asked the Justice Department if it was legal. Both departments answered yes."

"Only when he was satisfied that we could protect both our liberties and our security did he signal that we could go ahead," says the former secretary of state. "The fact that we have not had a successful attack on our territory traces directly to those difficult decisions." A portion of the clip appears below:

The remarks may cause something of an awkward moment today, as they coincide with Barack Obama's visit to the Bush library. Though Obama and Bush have shared many counterterrorism policies, enhanced interrogation remains a key sticking point between the two administrations, with the president on record opposing Bush administration policies. "I believe that waterboarding was torture and, whatever legal rationals were used, it was a mistake," Obama said in 2009.

Rice's remarks also come as partisans on both sides grapple with Bush's legacy. A New Washington Post/ABC News poll shows Bush's approval rating rising to 47 percent, a sharp increase from when he left office in 2009 at 33 percent. Barack Obama's approval rating, meanwhile, hovers around 47 percent as well.