Barack Obama has been doing a lot of blinking lately. On Syria especially.
"There would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movements on the chemical weapons front or the use of chemical weapons," he said back in August 2012. Chemical weapons were a "red line."
Presumably the president hoped that his statement would deter Bashar Assad's embattled regime from using chemical weapons. And presumably he hoped that his demand in 2011 for Assad to relinquish power would be obeyed.
Obama surely hoped back then that the Syrian dictator would be overthrown quickly, as his counterparts in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya had been. Unfortunately, Assad has proved to be tougher and more ruthless.
Last December, the U.S. consul in Istanbul reported evidence of chemical gas attacks in Syria to the State Department. Last week, it was reported that all U.S. intelligence agencies believe that sarin gas has been deployed there.
But Obama has been unwilling to change his policies significantly. He has not ordered imposition of a no-fly zone, as Bill Clinton did in Kosovo in the 1990s.
He has not pledged support for the Syrian rebels. Instead, he has indicated that intelligence "assessments" are not conclusive.
"We've got to do everything we can to investigate and establish with some certainty" -- an interesting standard -- "what exactly has happened in Syria," he said at a press conference on Tuesday.
"We will use all the assets and resources that we have at our disposal. We'll work with the neighboring countries to see whether we can establish a clear baseline of facts. And we've also called on the United Nations to investigate."
These are conditions that seem impossible to meet. The United Nations will not act because of the veto of Assad-supporting Russia.
Other nations' intelligence services have already chimed in, concluding that chemical weapons are indeed being used in Syria. Our ability to "investigate and establish with some certainty what exactly has happened in Syria" is limited.
This president, like his predecessors, has to make decisions based on incomplete and imperfect information. It comes with the job.
The red line has been crossed, but the president has decided not to change the game.
This could have perilous consequences. Will Israeli leaders take seriously Obama's pledge that he will not allow Iran to deploy nuclear weapons?
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