In his presentation on Syria Kerry stated,
We know that the regime was specifically determined to rid the Damascus suburbs of the opposition, and it was frustrated that it hadn’t succeeded in doing so.
But the details of what Kerry was saying were not included in his speech. As it turns out that detail had been provided earlier in the morning by Gen. Keane in his NPR interview.
Keane said that Assad's regime has been trying to clear the rebels from this Damascus suburb for some time without success using aircraft. Then a few weeks ago the rebels received a shipment of arms from Saudi Arabia that included shoulder fired antiaircraft weapons. Using those weapons the rebels shot down two of Assad's aircraft. Since then, no aircraft have flown. Instead, Assad tried continual barrages of conventional artillery but had no luck in dislodging the rebels. That is why he decided to use chemical weapons.
I have thought that the use of chemical weapons would be suicidal for Assad and that most regimes are not suicidal. That is why I was highly skeptical that Assad had use these weapons, believing it equally likely that this was a disinformation campaign. This had the feeling of a Syrian version of the Iraq curveball exercise , where the anti-Hussein factions used every conceivable form of deceit to dupe us into invading. However, it is not suicidal to use chemical weapons when they are your only choice in defeating an enemy. That is why Saddam Hussein use them when he was losing the war against Iran and apparently that is why Assad is using them now.
As a general matter I agree that "dead is dead." Generally it makes no difference what the means of your demise is. But chemical weapons are different in the sense that their affects are usually indiscriminate. And in this case they are being used deliberately against civilian targets. Additionally, the method of death can be important if it is one that causes long periods of extended suffering. That is what chemical weapons do. They often don't kill but leave the victims maimed. In the case of blister agents, they also leave the victims horribly disfigured and in terrible agony.
Since Assad has apparently decided that he can use chemical weapons I am now convinced it is incumbent upon someone, anyone, and if no one else, the United States, to tell him no. You are violating international norms and you will be held to account. You must understand that he cannot adopt a strategy of using chemical weapons against his people.
I believe the President makes this decision very reluctantly. I suspect that he may see it as the moral equivalent of Rwanda or maybe trying to undue the precedent of the US ignoring Iraq's use of chemical weapons in the Iran/Iraq War. But while he makes this decision reluctantly, I'm certain he feels he has no other choice.