This week delivered a familiar narrative from Syria. Allegations of a chemical weapons attack bubbled up to the international stage, eliciting shock and awe across the board, only to be disproven a couple days later. Except this time, there was a little bit of confusion about exactly who pulled the trigger.
The Free Syrian Army reported on Tuesday that two Scud-like missiles screamed into a small town near Aleppo and released a nerve agent that contributed to the death of at least 16 people. Around the same time, Bashar Assad's government accused the rebels of launching the attack. The rebels denied the allegations. The United Nations launched an inquiry into the attack. Barack Obama rattled his sabre and reminded everyone that chemical weapons crossed the red line. Lindsey Graham freaked out about weapons of mass destruction. And finally, on Thursday evening, U.S. intelligence officials told multiple press outlets that there probably weren't even any chemical weapons involved in the attack at all. So are we supposed to believe that everybody's lying or that everybody simply confused?
It's tempting to make an exasperated statement here — like "Good grief!" — but it's hardly productive, though. The confusion over chemical weapons in Syria is almost as old as the conflict itself, and this is not the first scare. Reports of Assad using chemical weapons have been bouncing around since early January, and by the end of the month, leaked State Department cables suggested that there really might be real trouble. The use of chemical weapons, as we mentioned earlier, is Obama's trigger. He said on Wednesday that it was a "game changer" in the conflict and the point at which the "international community has to act."