The Administration has given the Syrian opposition more than six hundred and fifty million dollars in nonmilitary aid, but Obama has consistently opposed arming the rebels or intervening militarily on their behalf. The United States has taken a tenuous position: not deep enough to please the rebels or its allies in Europe, or to topple the regime, or to claim leadership in the war's aftermath—but also, perhaps most important, not so deep that it can't get out.
Just after midnight on April 25th, a Syrian medical technician who calls himself Majid Daraya was sitting at home, in the city of Daraya, five miles from the outskirts of Damascus, when he heard an explosion. He ran outside, and, on the southern horizon, he saw a blue haze. "I've never seen a blue explosion before," he remembers thinking. Seconds later came another blast, and another blue haze. Majid, who used a pseudonym to protect his identity, told me that his city had become a violent and unpredictable place; for five months, it had been the scene of heavy combat between forces loyal to the regime of Bashar al-Assad and the rebels who have been fighting for more than two years to drive him from power.
Within a few minutes, Majid said, his eyes began to burn, and he felt sick to his stomach. He decided to walk to the local hospital, where, as an anesthesia specialist, he spent most of his daytime hours. When he arrived, dozens of people were streaming in, choking, vomiting, crying, saliva bubbling out of their mouths. About a hundred and thirty people were treated for similar symptoms; ten of them, Majid said, were in "dangerous" condition, though none died. The victims were suffering from chemical poisoning, but there wasn't much that the doctors could do except try to alleviate the symptoms. "We don't have medicine to cure that kind of poisoning," Majid said, in a telephone interview. (We had been introduced by the Syrian Support Group, a pro-opposition organization in Washington, D.C.) "The people were terrified, because no one could help them."