On Tuesday, the forces of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad unleashed a chemical attack on the civilian residents of Khan Sheikun, a town situated near the rough borderlines between resistance and regime. It was a brutal strike, taking 80 lives and wounding hundreds more. It underscored, also, a painful truth about the nature of sarin gas and other internationally banned nerve agents: If a country wants to produce them, and use them, there’s precious little anyone can do to stop it.
Syria’s use of sarin gas this week echoes another in 2013, when Assad murdered more than 1,400 residents of a Damascus suburb with the same nerve agent. In response to that attack, the international community faced a choice: Direct military intervention, or wringing a promise out of Assad that he would destroy any remaining chemical stockpiles. After at times heated political maneuvering, the United States opted for the later.