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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.

Go deeper

Ina Fried, author of Login
50 mins ago - Technology

Intel CEO wants to compete against Apple

Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger hasn't given up on the idea of the Mac once again using Intel chips, but he acknowledges it will probably be years before he gets that chance.

  • In the meantime, he is focused on powering Windows machines that give Apple CEO Tim Cook a run for his money.

Why it matters: In getting pushed out of the Mac, Intel not only lost a customer, but picked up a new rival.

55 mins ago - Health

Education secretary reveals limits to Biden’s mask push on states

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, in an "Axios on HBO" interview, said he's reluctant to withhold federal funding from states that won't enforce school mask mandates because he doesn't want to hurt students.

Why it matters: Cardona's comments suggest there are limits to how far the Biden administration will go in pressuring states to adopt universal masking — or vaccine mandates.

Mike Allen, author of AM
1 hour ago - Axios on HBO

GOP senator smacks Trump

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) told “Axios on HBO” he’s not sure former President Donald Trump would win the Republican nomination if he ran in 2024 — a rare voice of criticism from within the party.

  • When I raised the conventional wisdom that Trump would be expected to win the nomination, Cassidy jumped in.“
  • I don't know that,” the senator said during our interview in Chalmette, La.