Obama drew a "red line" about the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime in Syria. Awkward:
U.S. Says It Suspects Assad Used Chemical Weapons
By MARK LANDLER
WASHINGTON — The White House said on Thursday that American intelligence agencies now believed, with “varying degrees of confidence,” that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons, but it said it needed conclusive proof before President Obama would take action.
The disclosure, in letters to Congressional leaders, takes the administration a step closer to acknowledging that President Bashar al-Assad has crossed a red line established by Mr. Obama last summer, when he said the United States would take unspecified action against Syria if there was evidence that chemical weapons had been used in the civil war.
I note a divergence - the Amdinistration now claims it needs "conclusive proof", but per this account Obama only needed "evidence". I know what he said last summer:
We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.
We are now learning that by "seeing" Obama meant seeing and tasting and touching and having some Syrian chemicals snuggle in his lap and tickle him. As Obama has said in another context and might have said here, "Don't call my bluff!"
Which is fair enough in one sense. By announcing a red line, Obama ceded the initiative to the Syrians. The odds are that "they" have chosen to cross it, but whether "they" are the Assad people directly or rogue regime hardliners who are willing to burn down everything is something we don't know and ought to find out.
That said, Presidential talk is not meant to be so cheap. Currently, the White House has its lawyers as the line of defense:
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, wrapping up weeklong travels in the Middle East that included daily discussions of the Syria crisis, said he was prepared to “give advice on policy decisions” for Pentagon action, but cautioned that much remained uncertain about the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime.
Asked if this assessment had proven that Syria had crossed a “red line” drawn by the president, he responded, “We need all the facts, we need all the information.” He noted that uncertainties remained over “what was used, where it was used, who used it.”
Even if the United Nations investigation proves the use of chemicals, an official said, the White House must determine who used them and whether they were used deliberately or accidentally. He did not offer a timetable for that process.
“It is precisely because this is a red line that we have to establish with airtight certainty that this happened,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so he could discuss internal deliberations. “The bar on the United States is higher than on anyone else, both because of our capabilities and because of our history in Iraq.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, speaking in Cairo during a Middle East tour that has been dominated by worries about Syria, said, “Suspicions are one thing; evidence is another.”
It is a war zone, not an NCIS crime scene, and it is inconceivable that we will gather "all" the facts. Which means that at some point, ready or not, away we will have to go. Or almost certainly not, unless the Pentagon offers some stand-offish cruise missile type responses. Syrian civilans can die in droves but Obama won't be putting US boots on the ground.
Menu items were suggested by the always temperate John McCain:
Mr. McCain called on the president to begin supplying weapons to the rebels, which he has so far refused to do; to enforce a no-fly zone over Syria; and to redouble pressure on Russia to abandon its support for the Assad regime.
Time will tell.
METAPHOR FAIL, OR, DO THE EXPERTS EVEN KNOW WHAT THEY ARE LOOKING FOR?
Experts on chemical warfare said the administration’s methodical approach was warranted. The evidence that has emerged so far is suggestive of chemical attacks, they said, but not conclusive. Syrian government forces could have used riot-control gas that, while extremely powerful, does not qualify as a chemical warfare agent, like sarin.
“It’s not a smoking gun, at least so far,” said Keith Ward, an expert on chemical warfare who worked for the Department of Homeland Security and the Navy and is now advising Human Rights Watch.
Not a smoking gun? Who's looking for guns?!?