Monday, May 6, 2013

Chemical weapons and Syria

From this week's C&EN, the President of the United States is skeptical about current data about chemical weapons use in Syria (article by Glenn Hess):
Although “some evidence” has surfaced that chemical weapons have been used in Syria’s prolonged and intense civil war, it isn’t enough to warrant action, President Barack Obama said last week at a news briefing. 
Obama said more facts must be known before he is willing to consider any kind of escalation or U.S. involvement in Syria. “We don’t know how [the chemical weapons] were used, when they were used, who used them,” he said. The U.K. and France have claimed that Syria has used poison gases in its war with opposition political groups. But “we don’t have a chain of custody that establishes what exactly happened,” the President said. 
...The White House says its tentative assessment that the weapons were used was partly based on “physiological samples,” most likely blood samples collected from victims of attacks, experts say. The British and French governments say their claims stem from a range of evidence, including soil samples, witness interviews, and accounts by medical experts who observed victims’ symptoms.
I am amused at the thought of President Obama basically playing QA auditor on this intelligence data. " it appears to me that these samples were not in a state of control, so I don't understand how you can make that conclusion."*

The role that chemistry has played in the Syrian conflict is not small, including the global intelligence community's ability to know somehow that a chemical reaction to create sarin gas was taking place.

*You know it's a rough morning when I'm making cGMP jokes.


  1. CJ: This morning the UN appointed representative said was the rebel (composed of all those loose Islamic outfits in tandem with Al-quida)primarily responsible for the Sarin use. I thought our president made a big mistake when he declared his "red-line" for the chemical use. The question is who gave or handed over this deadly nerve agent(s)to these morons? It is a very tough call to take any action, while our senior senate leaders are clamoring for more American role in this abyss.

  2. methylphosphonic acid detection in soil is a pretty clear indicator

  3. It's almost a nice contrast after "my auntie told me Saddam has WMDs so let's lock n load. Democracy? Wossat?"

    Well, apart from the unrelenting horror of it all.

    1. I have no idea what you're trying to say here. Do you mean democracy in America (where the leaders at the time were elected by the system in place) or in Iraq (in which case i really don't understand your point)?

      Still, it's always nice to be schooled on international relations by the British, who of course are known as the most peace-loving of peoples.

  4. Anonymous @ 10:29 am: the UN is distancing itself from the comments you mentioned. There's a lot of confusion at this point and I'm glad *someone* is playing the role of QA auditor. However horrific the effects of nerve agents on people and the environment, a sprinkling of sarin isn't worth a full-scale intervention.