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May 7, 2013

Red Line: President Obama’s Statement on Syrian WMDs Lingers as 49,000 More Died

by Kyle Becker
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President Obama shared a much-needed laugh with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu while in Israel about the ‘red line’ (see video below) but after revelations that Syria’s dictator Bashar Assad likely used sarin gas on his own people, the phrase has become gravely serious.

In August 2012, President Obama spoke about the ongoing civil war in Syria: “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, and also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch [sic] of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.”

Since chemical weapons were recently discovered to have been used in Syria, and in particular, deadly sarin gas, the administration has claimed that the president’s language was an ‘off-the-cuff’ remark, which is at variance with the deliberate manner the president delivered the line and the extremely serious nature of the subject matter involved.

The New York Times, which is actually an informative publication on international affairs, has raised questions about the White House’s reframing of the phrase, even titling a recent article as “Off-the-Cuff Obama Line Put U.S. in Bind on Syria.” The Obama administration claims the phrase came out of contemporary conversation about Iran’s developing nuclear program (which is equally unhelpful, since the Iranians are continuing on with their nuclear weapons plans unabated).

Mr. Obama also stated to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the president’s visit to Israel that “the use of chemical weapons is a game changer,” which backs up the “red line” comment.

Foreign policy explains why the “red line” comment was likely made:

 “The idea was to put a chill into the Assad regime without actually trapping the president into any predetermined action,” said one senior official, who, like others, discussed the internal debate on the condition of anonymity. But “what the president said in August was unscripted,” the official said. Mr. Obama was thinking of a chemical attack that would cause mass fatalities, not relatively small-scale episodes like those now being investigated, except the “nuance got completely dropped.”

And another official controversially backtracked, “How can we attack another country unless it’s in self-defense and with no Security Council resolution?” he said, referring to United Nations authorization. “If he drops sarin on his own people, what’s that got to do with us?”

Approximately 49,000 have died since the late August “red line” statement, factoring in the UN’s figure and adjusting for those provided by human rights groups.

Image from Michael Ramirez of Investor’s Business Daily.

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