The Blog

Obama’s Meaningless ‘Red Line’?

8:55 PM, Apr 25, 2013 • By LEE SMITH
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

The administration believes that “any use of chemical weapons in Syria would very likely have originated with the Assad regime.” And yet Assad has repeatedly claimed it was the opposition that used chemical weapons, most recently in March. Since the opposition has an interest in falsifying evidence that might draw in the United States on its side, the White House has to admit there’s a possibility that it wasn’t Assad. Indeed, there can be no other reason for the investigation except for the fact that the White House believes there is a possibility it wasn’t Assad, an option that it has entertained previously. Obama’s warnings about using and transferring chemical weapons were directed not only at the Syrian tyrant but also the “radical forces” among Assad’s opponents who might get their hands on Syria’s stockpile. Who’s to say it wasn’t the opposition, or its “radical forces,” that used sarin back in March, just to frame Assad?

From the administration’s perspective, this is exactly why we need to get to the bottom of what happened in Syria, with a U.N. team on the ground with “credible access”—even though Assad will never grant such access as long as he is in power.

Why, one might wonder, does the administration even need a U.N. investigation if three of our closest allies, along with our own intelligence community, have already said they believe Assad used chemical weapons? The White House maintains it’s because Obama doesn’t want to make a mistake like Bush did by invading Iraq based on faulty intelligence. This showed, as the administration official put it today, that “intelligence assessments are not alone sufficient.”

The fact that the Russians keep hammering away at this same theme—the Americans want to invade Syria on false pretenses just like they did with Iraq—actually serves the administration’s purposes. What seems lost on Russian President Vladimir Putin is the fact that Obama wants nothing to do with Syria—which is precisely why he is “pressing” the U.N. for an investigation. France and Britain, our two closest allies on the Security Council, think Assad used sarin, so does Israel, while our regional partners, from Turkey to the Gulf states, all want the United States to topple Assad. The White House handed the investigation over to the U.N. because it assumes that Moscow will play the same hand it has for the last two years in Syria—blocking the Americans and protecting Assad.  

If Putin really wanted to hurt Obama, he would add his KGB-inflected voice to that of the British, French, Israeli and American intelligence assessments and watch the American president squirm. “Definitely Assad used sarin, maybe worse,” Putin might say. “Mr. Obama, isn’t that your redline”?

Instead Putin will play to type as a thug so that when in the coming months allies and domestic critics wonder why Obama still won’t do anything to bring down Assad, even after it seems he crossed the administration’s redline by using chemical weapons, Obama can throw it all on Moscow. Putin’s got my hands tied at the U.N., Obama can explain. And you know those Russians—so cynical.

Recent Blog Posts