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“Very little doubt.”  That was White House Press Secretary Jay Carney’s characterization of the Obama administration’s degree of certainty that it was the Syrian government who launched the deadly gas attack last week and not the radical, Islamic rebels whose cause we are now rushing to aid.  In a society of laws, a remnant of doubt about the identity of a killer is considered grounds for acquittal, not reason to respond with further death and destruction.  In the political world of “ready, shoot, aim,” we pause not to reflect but only to reload. 

On my way to work this morning, I listened to an interview on the BBC of an official who was asked pointedly whether the government knows it was the Assad regime that launched the gas attack.  Although this is hardly the most important question or even a salient one, it is at least a place from which to  begin.  So, I listened eagerly to hear the answer of a man who knows much more than I do about the evidence.  Where there should have been a simple “yes,” there emerged a dense cloud of bureaucratic double-speak about how the government was “moving in the direction” of a conclusion and reviewing and assessing this or that evidence, and blah, blah, blah, followed quickly by a return to the imperative that we must act.  

I simply couldn’t listen any longer to the obfuscation.  It was all too familiar.  If you know it, man, say so.  If you don’t know, have the courage to admit it.  We heard this same refrain in the run-up to the Iraq war.  There was “very little doubt” there that the immediate threat of a mushroom cloud warranted immediate action.  Into that cavernous doubt we poured over four thousand American lives, nearly two hundred thousand Iraqi lives, and over a trillion dollars.  To what lasting end?

The question for the West is not whether Assad used chemical weapons to slaughter his own people, but what we reasonably can expect to change by slaughtering several thousand more.  Can anyone say he has “very little doubt” that the rebels seeking our assistance to take Assad’s place will end the killing once they are in power?  No, there are mountains of doubt as far as the eye can see. 

The lesson that history teaches to an empty room is that we cannot fight another country’s civil war, and most especially not a civil war in the Middle East.  There is no fledgling, Jeffersonian democracy waiting in the wings to bring peace to Syria or Egypt.  There are only two major parties vying for power, today.  One is a brutal, secular military regime, and the other is a brutal, Islamic theocratic regime.  There is “very little doubt” that either is capable of the madness of chemical warfare, and we can be certain American bullets will not change that.