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The distraction of red lines in Syria

  • 27 August 2013


You wake suddenly, disorientated. You’re crying uncontrollably but not sad. Sprawling out of bed you notice your entire face is leaking.

The nose gushing, the mouth drooling, the eyes still crying. After a few unsteady steps, you bend over and start to heave. It’s everywhere.

A few more steps and the rest of you splits open; your bladder and bowels give way. Chest constricting, you fling yourself forward. But by now your vision has started to blur, making it harder to see hallways, doorways, loved ones.

You know when you’re on the floor though. You feel it as you thrash yourself about like a demoniac: heaving, wrenching, convulsing. And then you’re not. You’re still. Paralysed. Inevitably it comes.


Sarin gas was originally used for exterminating bugs before we realised we could turn it on our selves. The agent works by targeting the nervous system, blocking the important enzyme that allows our nerves to know when a bodily function has been carried out. James Hamblin from The Atlantic explains what happens when our body loses these ‘off’ switches. Because of its cruel effectiveness, even the Nazis baulked at its military use, fearing a chemical retaliation from the Allies. However there is a growing body of evidence that the Assad regime used this or a similar agent in the Eastern suburbs of Damascus last Wednesday morning.

The evidence is strong, growing but not yet conclusive. World leaders still prefix their denunciations with the word ‘alleged’. Also, while sarin is often tipped as the likely agent the available, footage is not a perfect match for a sarin attack.  A UN inspection team was actually staying in Damascus when the footage began to appear online. The Syrian Government has finally given in to significant international pressure to allow this team access to the site to determine conclusively whether it was a chemical weapon attack and what agent(s) were used. Even Russia, for whom Syria is a staunch ally and offers a unique strategic foothold in the Middle East, agreed on this.

This is about the only thing the veto carrying, permanent member on the Security Council supports. The UN seems hobbled by Security Council politicking, which is only intensifying pressure on Barrack Obama to do something. Diplomatic avenues, particular getting Russia (and China) to cut Assad loose should not be overlooked amongst all the talk of intervention.

However Obama backed himself into something of a corner when he said last year that the use of chemical weapons was “a red line” to rethinking