Obama’s 'red line' on Syria: An Iraq-like 'slam dunk' moment? (+video)
President Obama said a 'red line' would be crossed if the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against rebels. Might that propel the US into war, as those elusive 'weapons of mass destruction' did in Iraq?
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"Knowing that there's chemical weapons in Syria doesn't tell us when they were used or how they were used," he said.Skip to next paragraph
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"To use weapons of mass destruction on civilian populations crosses another line in terms of international norms and laws – that's going to be a game changer,” Obama said. “For the Syrian Government to use chemical weapons on its people will change my calculus.”
It’s worth noting that Obama’s initial use of “red line” regarding Syria left room for maneuver.
Last summer, he warned that “a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.”
Although critics may see it as waffling, there is a clear difference between “small scale” and “a whole bunch” of chemical weapons being used. And as Time magazine’s defense expert Mark Thompson notes, “‘Some degree of varying confidence’ is a loophole big enough to fly a cruise missile through.”
But what Obama said Friday was far less than more hawkish lawmakers wanted to hear. “Disappointing but predictable statement by the President on #Syria today,” Senator John McCain (R) of Arizona tweeted.
"The president clearly stated that it was a red line and that it couldn't be crossed without the United States taking vigorous action,” Sen. McCain told Fox News earlier in the week. “That action should be a safe zone for the Syrian opposition to operate in Syria, weapons to the right people in Syria, and neutralizing the air capability of Bashar Assad."
What’s next is a lot of soul-searching by civilian and military officials, including for some a review of history regarding other controversial intelligence assessments – as Time’s Thompson does going back to the controversial (and largely discredited)Tonkin Gulf Resolution giving President Lyndon Johnson the authority to conduct war in Vietnam without formal declaration.
Meanwhile, Obama’s “red line” stands, along with the “varying degrees of confidence” among US intelligence agencies regarding Syria’s use of chemical weapons.
Which is the circumstance the Obama administration now finds itself in.