Obama's 'red line' for Syria is written on water

When adversaries, real and potential, look to President Obama and gauge his mettle and strength of commitment, they need look no farther than his wavering, mendacious policy toward Syria.

In August 2012, amid reports of Assad gassing rebel-held areas, President Obama drew his famous "red line," threatening "enormous consequences" against Assad if he used chemical weapons in Syria.  Assad ignored him repeatedly and continued to chemically shell his people, on a small scale, without any fear of consequence.  Then Ghouta happened, one year later, and for the first time Assad took notice of the USA's response.

The Syrian dictator had shocked the West with his brazen, massive use of sarin nerve gas on civilians in the area of Ghouta, Damascus on August 21, 2013, killing, by American estimates, about 1,429 people.  The Obama administration was finally prompted to credibly threaten military force in retaliation.  But Obama was pulled back from the brink by the intervention of Russia's President Putin, who brokered a deal in which there would be no Western bombing campaign, but where Assad would have to turn over all his WMD shells to the international Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). 

Assad divested tons of his declared chemical-filled shells, which were destroyed at sea under OPCW supervision, and joined the international Chemical Weapons Convention.  The administration praised itself for gaining a non-proliferation goal while still averting war.

But hawks warned the president that it would be impossible to verify the complete destruction of Assad's chemical stockpiles, given the presence of a totalitarian regime motivated to hide them.  And now, with his back to the wall militarily, President Assad has decided to gas his restive population again.

In January, traces of sarin and VX nerve gas were found by the OPCW at Assad's Scientific Studies and Research Center, the primary construction facility for the regime's WMD program.

Citing diplomats and analysts, Reuters reported that "the finding of VX and sarin supports assertions by Western governments that Assad withheld some of his stockpile, or did not disclose the full extent of Syria's chemical capability or arsenal to the OPCW."

"This is a pretty strong indication they have been lying about what they did with sarin," said one diplomat to the Reuters reporter.  "They have so far been unable to give a satisfactory explanation about this finding."

But it is not simply a matter of Assad keeping nerve agent stockpiles.  The Syrian president has been actually barrel-bombing war-torn areas of Syria with chlorine gas, a deadly, asphyxiating agent.  The OPCW reportedly said chlorine has been used as a weapon in Syria "systematically and repeatedly" after the Assad government handed over its declared toxic stockpile under a deal brokered by the U.S. and Russia.  While U.N. ambassador Samantha Power also confirmed this to reporters, her boss simply lied to the media when asked about the matter:

…we positioned ourselves to be willing to take military action. The reason we did not was because Assad gave up his chemical weapons. That's not speculation on our part. That, in fact, has been confirmed by the organization internationally that is charged with eliminating chemical weapons.

But if he gets sufficient proof of new use, Obama claimed, "we will reach out to patrons of Assad, like Russia, to put a stop to it."  But does anyone seriously expect Russia to stop Assad from gassing his people with chlorine, or sarin, or VX?

Obama's message to the world now appears to be: let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that failure to comply with a prior commitment carries no consequence, and "red lines" are written on water.

Christopher S. Carson, a lawyer, holds a masters degree in national security studies.

When adversaries, real and potential, look to President Obama and gauge his mettle and strength of commitment, they need look no farther than his wavering, mendacious policy toward Syria.

In August 2012, amid reports of Assad gassing rebel-held areas, President Obama drew his famous "red line," threatening "enormous consequences" against Assad if he used chemical weapons in Syria.  Assad ignored him repeatedly and continued to chemically shell his people, on a small scale, without any fear of consequence.  Then Ghouta happened, one year later, and for the first time Assad took notice of the USA's response.

The Syrian dictator had shocked the West with his brazen, massive use of sarin nerve gas on civilians in the area of Ghouta, Damascus on August 21, 2013, killing, by American estimates, about 1,429 people.  The Obama administration was finally prompted to credibly threaten military force in retaliation.  But Obama was pulled back from the brink by the intervention of Russia's President Putin, who brokered a deal in which there would be no Western bombing campaign, but where Assad would have to turn over all his WMD shells to the international Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). 

Assad divested tons of his declared chemical-filled shells, which were destroyed at sea under OPCW supervision, and joined the international Chemical Weapons Convention.  The administration praised itself for gaining a non-proliferation goal while still averting war.

But hawks warned the president that it would be impossible to verify the complete destruction of Assad's chemical stockpiles, given the presence of a totalitarian regime motivated to hide them.  And now, with his back to the wall militarily, President Assad has decided to gas his restive population again.

In January, traces of sarin and VX nerve gas were found by the OPCW at Assad's Scientific Studies and Research Center, the primary construction facility for the regime's WMD program.

Citing diplomats and analysts, Reuters reported that "the finding of VX and sarin supports assertions by Western governments that Assad withheld some of his stockpile, or did not disclose the full extent of Syria's chemical capability or arsenal to the OPCW."

"This is a pretty strong indication they have been lying about what they did with sarin," said one diplomat to the Reuters reporter.  "They have so far been unable to give a satisfactory explanation about this finding."

But it is not simply a matter of Assad keeping nerve agent stockpiles.  The Syrian president has been actually barrel-bombing war-torn areas of Syria with chlorine gas, a deadly, asphyxiating agent.  The OPCW reportedly said chlorine has been used as a weapon in Syria "systematically and repeatedly" after the Assad government handed over its declared toxic stockpile under a deal brokered by the U.S. and Russia.  While U.N. ambassador Samantha Power also confirmed this to reporters, her boss simply lied to the media when asked about the matter:

…we positioned ourselves to be willing to take military action. The reason we did not was because Assad gave up his chemical weapons. That's not speculation on our part. That, in fact, has been confirmed by the organization internationally that is charged with eliminating chemical weapons.

But if he gets sufficient proof of new use, Obama claimed, "we will reach out to patrons of Assad, like Russia, to put a stop to it."  But does anyone seriously expect Russia to stop Assad from gassing his people with chlorine, or sarin, or VX?

Obama's message to the world now appears to be: let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that failure to comply with a prior commitment carries no consequence, and "red lines" are written on water.

Christopher S. Carson, a lawyer, holds a masters degree in national security studies.