Foreign and Defense Policy, Middle East and North Africa

The red line: Chemical weapons in Syria

REUTERS/Rauf Maltas/Anadolu Agency

REUTERS/Rauf Maltas/Anadolu Agency

The White House today admitted what has been known for some time: The Syrian regime used chemical weapons to attack its own people. The opposition first accused the Assad regime of using chemical agents some time ago, but the accusations were, for the most part, dismissed by the White House. Only yesterday, SecDef Chuck Hagel downplayed the charges, saying, “Suspicions are one thing; evidence is another.”

There are a number of problems here.

  • The Syrian regime used CHEMICAL WEAPONS. This is a taboo that should theoretically excite overwhelming reaction from the international community. But won’t. True, tens of thousands of Kurds were murdered by Saddam Hussein in chemical attacks in Halabja in 1988, to little fanfare. Now tens of thousands of Syrians have been murdered by a predatory regime that has proven it too will not hesitate to use banned weapons to exterminate its foes. Will we remain indifferent to their plight?
  • Barack Obama stated in 2012 that the use of chemical weapons is a “red line” for the United States, a “game changer” that would theoretically move the White House from its position of committed indifference. Earlier reports of the use of chlorine gas were dismissed. Those were bad, but tolerable. Sarin, on the other hand, is expressly prohibited by the Chemical Weapons convention. True, the President has, in the months since his manly assertion about red lines, attempted to render them more fuzzy. CW went from being a “red line”  to something for which the Syrian government would be “held accountable” (see more on that evolution here).

This administration has mastered the art of defining deviancy down – particularly when it comes to the deviancy of rogue states and WMD (read Iran, North Korea, Syria). But having boxed himself into a corner, Obama is now faced with the choice of repudiating his earlier self, or actually doing something. What should that something be? It’s been said, said again, and said a hundred times: Arm moderates among the Syrian rebels. Take out Syrian air power. Take out scud launchers. Create a humanitarian corridor. These are DOABLE goals, requiring no boots on the ground. And while sorting the moderates from the Qatar-funded terrorists fighting Assad is getting harder and harder, surely such a job is not beyond the grasp of the United States of America.

Syria is a stain upon the record of Barack Obama. It is a disgrace that America will not soon live down. So, Mr. President, perhaps now you will heed the wise council of Obama 2012 and change policy.

2 thoughts on “The red line: Chemical weapons in Syria

  1. This is internal, terrorist-on-terrorist violence. Unless Israel is drug into this conflict in some way, the USA has NO vital national security interest. Stay out of it.

  2. Why is the US being sucked into another conflict again? What is going on in Syria is not your business and helping Islamic fundamentalists (again) does not seem to be a good idea given what happened in Afghanistan and Libya. Voters already hate the GOP because its leadership lied the country into two useless wars that will lead to bankruptcy of the nation. You already spend more on military related activities than come in as personal income taxes. So let’s stop this nonsense and try to reflect on the fact that peace is preferable to war, cheaper than war, and a lot safer than war.

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