The Known Knowns and Known Unknowns of a Chemical Attack in Syria


On Thursday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius offered what is perhaps the most vehement reaction so far to opposition allegations that the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical-warfare agents against civilians in the eastern suburbs around Damascus. If the use of such weapons is confirmed, Fabius told French broadcaster BFM, “France’s position is that there must be a reaction, a reaction that could take the form of a reaction with force.”

Fabius didn’t elaborate what, exactly, he meant by “force,” though he did rule out ground troops. “I believe [such an attack] cannot go without a reaction from those who believe in international legality.” The threat of applying “force” without deploying ground troops is an ambiguous one — all the more appropriate considering that everything that is known about the alleged attack is similarly ambiguous, from the number of dead to the chemicals used to how they might…

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