The Obama administration drew a "red line" in the sand months ago with the Assad regime in Damascus: If they were to use WMD's during their nation's civil war, the United States would intervene militarily. The president himself said the deployment of such weapons would represent a "game-changer." The British, French, and Israelis have all concluded that chemical weapons have been deployed, and now top US officials are co-signing that assessment. The Secretary of State:
WASHINGTON (AP) —Secretary of State John Kerry says Syrian regime launched 2 chemical attacks.— Josh Lederman (@joshledermanAP) April 25, 2013
And the Secretary of Defense:
U.S. intelligence has concluded "with some degree of varying confidence," that the Syrian government has used sarin gas as a weapon in its 2-year-old civil war, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday. Hagel, speaking to reporters in Abu Dhabi, said the White House has informed two senators by letter that, within the past day, "our intelligence community does assess, with varying degrees of confidence, that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically, the chemical agent sarin." "It violates every convention of warfare," Hagel said.
So, now what? Assad has crossed the White House's red line. Will that reality prompt US military action in Syria? What constitutes "action"? Sec. Kerry has been nudging NATO to form a contingency plan, so boots on the ground could be a real possibility. This strikes me as a lose-lose scenario. If the United States doesn't respond with measures beyond additional strong words and a symbolic slap on the wrist, Obama will send a very dangerous signal to other rogue regimes -- in Tehran and Pyongyang, or instance. Once any President of the United States has established a clear line that cannot be crossed, he must follow-through on his threats if they're not heeded. American credibility is at stake; it's already been bruised in Syria. How long has it been since our Secretary of State pronounced that Assad "must go"? Answer: More than one full year. But if we do intervene, who's to say that we'd be helping the right side? Assad is an evil despot who's been slaughtering his own people for months in a merciless attempt to retain power. The death toll is estimated to be in the tens of thousands. On the other hand, the rebels -- whom we've formally recognized are aided -- are at least partially comprised of hardcore, pro-Al Qaeda Islamists. We've already helped swapp one stable Middle Eastern despot for an (elected) aggressively Islamist regime in Cairo. Similar worries abound in Tripoli. Are we going to assist a truly terrible group of rebels topple a truly terrible dictator in Damascus? To what end? Very unpleasant choices all around, it seems.
UPDATE - Time compiles six instances of the White House touting its "red line" on Syrian chemical weapons.