What some diplomats are calling an attack by the Assad regime in Syria utilizing weapons of mass destruction, namely chemical weapons, has resulted in a response that may include the use of cruise missiles from the United States.

Photo courtesy of Montana World Affairs Council

Retired ambassador Mark Johnson with the Montana World Affairs Council in Missoula said Monday, August 26, that the alleged attacks took place just a few days ago.

"On the 21st of August, we received the horrible news that someone, not yet proven, used chemical weapons, what kind doesn't matter, because we have over 300 dead people, mainly women and children in the outskirts of Damascus," Johnson said. "It appears to be a brutal and repulsive attack by the regime in a strategic area near an air base used to resupply Assad with shipments coming from Iran. It was a year ago that President Obama said the use of chemical weapons would be a red line."

Johnson, who spent many years working the the U.S. State Department in the Middle East, said that the White House has been busy formulating a response to the chemical attacks.

"Military assets are being positioned in the region, including a fourth destroyer with Tomahawk cruise missiles nearby," Johnson said. "We have two large aircraft carriers, plus a large-deck amphibious ship, which is probably just a couple of days away. The U.N. has inspectors there, and as they left their compound, they were fired upon and had to turn back."

Johnson said the United States must do something, and not be seen as indifferent to the attacks.

"It would seriously deteriorate our credibility in a region where our credibility is already suspect," Johnson said. "I think the Assad regime really has to pay a price for this. However, in addition to those killed by the chemical weapons, I'm also concerned about the hundreds of thousands who have already been killed, and the millions who have been displaced by the civil war. So, we have not only a strategic interest, but also a deep humanitarian interest, and both of these should compel us to take action."

Johnson will address the issues in the Middle East at 7:00 p.m. Tuesday evening, August 27 in the North University Center Ballroom on the University of Montana campus. Admission is free for members of the Montana World Affairs Council, $5 for non-members.

Mark Johnson with the Montana World Affairs Council