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Syrian chemical weapons attacks have been normalized

first responder sprays water on victim of suspected chlorine gas attack
Civil defense members try to reduce the effects of chlorine gas with water as they carry out search and rescue works after a suspected chlorine gas attack by Assad Regime forces in Idlib, Syria, on April 4, 2017. Photo: Firas Faham / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

As the United States and the international community have drawn a supposed red-line at sarin and other formally outlawed chemical weapons, chlorine gas attacks in Syria have become normalized, allowing President Bashar al-Assad to deploy them with impunity.

Why it matters: The onslaught of Aleppo has desensitized observers, while the fixation on de-escalation zones, the campaign against ISIS and stabilization efforts have created blind spots in places like Douma, where siege and human misery continue. These incidents are symptomatic of broader missteps by the U.S., whose rudderless policy has led to a lack of accountability for these attacks and, indeed, Assad's continued hold on power.

The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), a humanitarian organization, has documented 196 chemical attacks since the beginning of the conflict, the majority occurring after a 2013 agreement that purportedly stripped Assad of his chemical weapons stockpiles, lauded at the time by President Obama as a diplomatic success.

The fact that chemical attacks, along with the attacks on hospitals and civilians, have continued — with a ferocity not seen since the regime's Aleppo offensive in 2016 and the subsequent establishment in Astana of "de-escalation zones" enforced by Russia, Turkey and Iran — comes as no surprise. As monitors have consistently documented, the Syrian government rarely honors ceasefires, and Assad and Russia are operating in charted waters, having already destroyed east Aleppo and besieged other cities.

What's next: In January, Secretary Tillerson outlined a Syria strategy with Assad out of picture, but the Trump administration has little leverage on the ground. By continuing the Obama-era outsourcing of Syria policy to competing parties in the region, the U.S. will remain unable to broker a political solution that phases out Assad.

Adham Sahloul has been a researcher at the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and an advocacy officer at the Gaziantep, Turkey, office of SAMS.

Zachary Basu 1 hour ago
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U.N. calls on Turkey to end state of emergency

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photo by OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images.

A new report from the United Nations has detailed extensive human rights violations in Turkey and calls for an end to the country's 20-month state of emergency. The report's findings include evidence of large-scale arbitrary detentions, suppression of free speech and the use of torture by security forces, justified under the state-sponsored guise of "links to terrorist organizations."

“The numbers are just staggering: nearly 160,000 people arrested during an 18-month state of emergency; 152,000 civil servants dismissed, many totally arbitrarily; teachers, judges and lawyers dismissed or prosecuted; journalists arrested, media outlets shut down and websites blocked – clearly the successive states of emergency declared in Turkey have been used to severely and arbitrarily curtail the human rights of a very large number of people,”
— UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein
Haley Britzky 1 hour ago
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McCain condemns Trump's congratulations to Putin

John McCain.
Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Sen. John McCain condemned President Trump on Tuesday for his call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying U.S. presidents shouldn't congratulate "dictators on winning sham elections."

“An American president does not lead the Free World by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections. And by doing so with Vladimir Putin, President Trump insulted every Russian citizen who was denied the right to vote in a free and fair election to determine their country's future, including the countless Russian patriots who have risked so much to protest and resist Putin's regime."