Posted by DrJohn on 30 August, 2013 at 7:01 am. 19 comments already!

Red-lining

For some time Barack Obama has been issuing some powerful dictates.

Mubarak must go.
Gadaffi must go.
Assad must go.

Obama has taken on the role of Supreme World Ruler, deciding who should be deposed and when.

But then a year ago Obama uttered some words that have become infamous. He drew a figurative red line in the sand”

“We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized,” the president said. “That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”

Now those words have come back to haunt him.

The danger of getting the language wrong is that it becomes shorthand for a more damning critique. If we’re talking simply about language, the president’s pickle can be chalked up to the inevitable tension in foreign affairs between what you can say in public and what you do behind the scenes (or are prepared to do in the future). But the disconnect between what Obama says and what he is prepared to do can also be linked to the larger claim that he does not perceive the underlying challenges of foreign policy clearly. He not only got the rhetoric wrong last August, goes the thinking, he misunderstood the conditions. Had he a clearer vision, he might have agreed with his advisers who pushed him to support the Syrian opposition more heavily last year. By acting earlier he might have removed the conditions that are forcing him to act now. Or, more realistically, the chances of a good outcome a year ago were no worse than a good outcome from the coming attack.

John Kerry announced that there was undeniable evidence of the use of chemical weapons and absolutely pinned the blame on Assad:

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that the use of chemical weapons in attacks on civilians in Syria last week was undeniable and that the Obama administration would hold the Syrian government accountable for a “moral obscenity” that has shocked the world’s conscience.

Obama then piled on

President Barack Obama declared unequivocally Wednesday that the Syrian government was responsible, while laying the groundwork for an expected U.S. military strike.

“We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out,” Obama said in an interview with “NewsHour” on PBS. “And if that’s so, then there need to be international consequences.”

But then the concrete cookie crumbled.

However, multiple U.S. officials used the phrase “not a slam dunk” to describe the intelligence picture — a reference to then-CIA Director George Tenet’s insistence in 2002 that U.S. intelligence showing Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was a “slam dunk” — intelligence that turned out to be wrong.

A report by the Office of the Director for National Intelligence outlining that evidence against Syria includes a few key caveats — including acknowledging that the U.S. intelligence community no longer has the certainty it did six months ago of where the regime’s chemical weapons are stored, nor does it have proof Assad ordered chemical weapons use, according to two intelligence officials and two more U.S. officials.

As any good St. Bernard would do, ABC News scurried to rescue Obama by blurring the red line comment:

The use of chemical weapons, itself, was not exactly Obama’s original “red line,” as he laid it out during a news conference at the White House on Aug. 20, 2012. For purposes of expediency and practicality, media outlets have simplified the “red line” as this: If Syria deployed chemical weapons against its own people, it would have crossed a threshold with the White House.

But what Obama said was a little less clear.

“We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized,” the president said a year ago last week. “That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.

Three thousand apparently suffered injuries and three hundred fifty five were dead. It remains unclear if that constitutes “a whole bunch.”

Obama has painted himself into a corner and his ego limits his options. He’s got to save face. Prepared to go it alone, Obama stated that a strike would be limited and not about regime change – but the most important part?

A U.S. official speaking to the Los Angeles Times said that Obama is seeking a strike on Syria “just muscular enough not to get mocked.”

In other words, saving face. Saving Obama’s ego.

And then Obama said this:

“We want the Assad regime to understand that by using chemical weapons on a large scale against your own people, against women, against infants, against children that you are not only breaking international norms and standards of decency, but you are creating a situation where U.S. interests are threatened,” Obama said. “And that needs to stop.”

I really do not comprehend how killing women and children with conventional weapons is decent but killing them with chemical weapons is not. I do not understand how killing women and children with chemical weapons on a small scale is more decent than killing them on a large scale with chemical weapons.

Not everyone believes that the Assad government did it:

Testimony from victims strongly suggests it was the rebels, not the Syrian government, that used Sarin nerve gas during a recent incident in the revolution-wracked nation, a senior U.N. diplomat said Monday.

Carla del Ponte, a member of the U.N. Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, told Swiss TV there were “strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof,” that rebels seeking to oust Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad had used the nerve agent.

But she said her panel had not yet seen any evidence of Syrian government forces using chemical weapons, according to the BBC, but she added that more investigation was needed. {emphasis ours}

There’s a lot of confusion right now but we apparently need to bomb Syria to find out what’s in it. Quite the foreign policy.

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