With Syria, “Knowing” Isn’t Enough

“We know that for three days before the attack, the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons personnel were on the ground in the area, making preparations. And we know that the Syrian regime elements were told to prepare for the attack by putting on gas masks and taking precautions associated with chemical weapons. We know that a senior regime official who knew about the attack confirmed that chemical weapons were used by the regime, reviewed the impact, and actually was afraid that they would be discovered.” – Secretary of State John Kerry [Washington Post].

“We know.” John Kerry couldn’t help but fall back on those two deceptive words. In a sense, they were his crutch, his only evidence, the only reason we have to trust him. No sources were revealed. No documents were released. We, the American people, are simply expected to trust him. They know and we do not.

Intelligence is a fickle thing. In a constantly changing world, knowledge is power. Those who have knowledge have the ability to make decisions, and those who have the ability to make decisions have control. But what happens when intelligence is unstable, when conflicting reports muddy the waters? What then? Who has the power? The people who claim to have the knowledge, or those who do? In a situation like this, the people claiming to have knowledge may really think they have it, and in the end, who are we to say they don’t? Conflicting reports are just that: conflicting. We cannot know for sure whether or not those men have what they seek.

Let me change the scenario. Let’s say the group of people laying claim to this crucial intelligence also constitutes the world’s most powerful governing body. This body has the largest, most proficient intelligence community history has ever seen. Who are we, common citizens with no intelligence community to speak of, to fear that such a body may be wrong?

I certainly don’t know the truth, nor am privy to the same “briefings” President Obama and Secretary Kerry receive every day. Nevertheless, blind faith is not an acceptable alternative. It would be nice to think that our government “knows” who deployed chemical weapons in Syria. In fact, maybe they do. But I can’t help but wonder if reports like this promulgate at least one or two truths, truths which poke serious holes in the government’s conclusion.

For the past week, I’ve been subjected to a barrage of information concerning the purported actions of the Assad regime. I am not here to argue that Assad didn’t authorize the use of chemical weapons. In fact, I should point out it’s likely he did. Much of the evidence I’ve seen suggests that the Syrian government was in fact responsible for launching a chemical assault that killed hundreds of innocent civilians. However, my convictions are belied by reports like the one I referred to earlier, which claim to have evidence exonerating the government and incriminating the rebel army.

I am not here to attack Mr. Kerry’s words, nor am I here to call into question his conclusion. He may well be right. Instead, I’m here to urge an air of extreme caution moving forward. If President Obama chooses to attack Syria, he must, and I say this as emphatically as possible, have incontrovertible proof that the Assad regime was responsible for the chemical assault. If we attack, and later learn that the rebels were responsible, our international clout will disappear. Such a mistake would be a most injurious wound, one from which we could not possibly recover.

I leave you with this. John Kerry claims to “know” that the Assad regime is responsible for the aforementioned chemical attack. Despite his confidence, reports that the rebels may be responsible continue to surface.

I write to urge caution, nothing more. If the aforementioned evidence remains inconclusive, we cannot afford to roll the dice. We’ve gambled before and lost. This time must be different. This time, we must know, truly and irrefutably.