The grim photos and videos are almost unbearable to view, even by the standards of Syria’s savage civil war. Rows of babies, toddlers and, often, their parents wrapped in white burial shrouds. Distraught family members mourning the deaths, which could top 1,000. And survivors gasping for breath, gagging and shaking.

Many experts suspect, and Syrian rebels claim, that the dead and injured were victims of a chemical weapons attack carried out by the Syrian government. The government denies involvement, labeling the accusations part of a “filthy media war.” The Russian government, which has immorally enabled the homicidal regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, cynically called it a “preplanned provocation.”

It’s time for the world to find out the truth and react accordingly. The United Nations already has a team in Syria to investigate previous claims of chemical weapons use. The U.N. team should be allowed to immediately investigate, before the bodies are buried and in advance of any evidence tampering.

It’s highly unlikely that Assad, already complicit in mass murder, will allow an independent investigation. But it’s likely that his Russian patrons can prod or force him to do it.

Ideally, Russian President Vladimir Putin would discreetly direct Assad to permit inspectors to determine the facts. If not, the U.N. Security Council should act with an unequivocal resolution, unlike Wednesday’s watered-down response. If either Russia, China or both once again provide diplomatic cover to Assad by vetoing a strong fact-finding resolution, they will once again lay bare the essential truth of the Syrian crisis: That these two nations are protecting a regime responsible for a war that has killed more than 100,000 citizens and has led 2 million of them to seek refuge in neighboring nations.

The Obama administration has displayed concern but has shown little willingness to act, at least unilaterally. In fact, the alleged chemical attack came a year to the day after President Obama warned of a “red line” regarding the use of chemical weapons.

The administration had already determined that the line had been crossed before, but nothing approximated the magnitude of Tuesday’s alleged attack, which if verified would rival the evil unleashed by Saddam Hussein in Iraq in the late 1980s.

At a minimum, Obama should use whatever political and diplomatic capital he still has with world leaders to secure a U.N. investigation. In the process, he should work to convince world leaders that this is truly an international problem, and that allowing Assad to continually kill Syrians, regardless of which weapons he chooses, is a stain on the global conscience.


An editorial of the Star Tribune (Minneapolis). Follow the editorial board on Twitter | FacebookPinterest | Google+