Friday, April 26, 2013


Where is 'red line' on Syrian chemical weapons?

Chemical weapons have likely been used in Syria by Bashar al-Assad, but U.S. officials are not ready to support further intervention without more proof.

The White House and top Obama administration officials said Thursday that U.S. intelligence has concluded with "varying degrees of confidence" that the Syrian government has twice used chemical weapons in the civil war, which has dragged on for two years.

However, officials also said more definitive proof was needed and the United States was not ready to escalate its involvement in Syria beyond non-lethal aid despite President Barack Obama's repeated public assertions that Syria's use of chemical weapons, or the transfer of its stockpiles to a terrorist group, would cross a "red line," the Associated Press and others reported.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has long supported further U.S. intervention in Syria, criticized the president, saying it was now "pretty obvious that red line has been crossed." He called on the administration to establish a no-fly zone and "a safe area for the opposition to operate" and to provide weapons to opposition forces. So far the United States has only provided non-lethal aid to the rebels.

Israel has also claimed that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons against his people and urged further action. Pentagon spokesman George Little said this week that "the use of such weapons would be entirely unacceptable," and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the use of chemical weapons would be a "game changer" and the United States and Israel "have options for all contingencies."

But as the Washington Post points out, the administration has been guarded about exactly how much evidence (and how much use) of chemical weapons would constitute crossing the "red line," and it's less clear still what actions the United States might take.

"Even if the White House does go ahead and decide that Obama's murky, pinkish-reddish-orange line has in fact been crossed, it doesn't seem prepared to do much about it," Foreign Policy's Blake Hounshell reports. "The plan is to press for a United Nations investigation of the alleged chemical-weapons use, not to fire up the B-52s."

Of course, not all actions are publicly disclosed. When Moammar Gadhafi's regime began to crumble in Libya two years ago, the United States disavowed the notion of putting "boots on the ground" and let NATO take the lead on military intervention. But the administration walked back some of his initial reticence, and the United States reportedly conducted covert operations and committed far more resources that in publicly suggested.

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