President Obama warned in August 2012 that Syria must not cross his “red line” against using chemical weapons against the rebels — or else. President Bashar Assad has continued to cross Mr. Obama’s red line, and we’re still waiting to see the “else.”
What is plain to see is a heavy rain of chemical weapons on rebel fighters in Syria, in 29 incidents this spring alone. The Washington Times reported Wednesday that the deal Mr. Obama made last year with the government in Damascus “left chlorine on the table as a weapon.” Barrel bombs filled with weaponized chlorine do deadly work.
To add insult to incompetent negotiating, Mr. Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry continue to embrace the lie that the United States has succeeded in getting “all the chemical weapons out of Syria.”
Mr. Obama clearly understands the consequences of doing nothing. In 2012, he said that “the point … made about chemical and biological weapons is critical. That’s an issue that doesn’t just concern Syria. It concerns our close allies in the region, including Israel. It concerns us. We cannot have a situation where chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people.
“We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is [when] we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”
Or he can just change his story. Our reporter Guy Taylor reports that “House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce plans on Wednesday to highlight how claims by the administration and the United Nations to have successfully rid Syria of chemical weapons have fallen far short — leaving the regime with a deadly arsenal of barrel bombs filled with weaponized chlorine.”
Mr. Royce, California Republican, asserts that President Assad’s forces have recently “stepped up” the use of such barrel bombs on civilians in rebel-controlled areas, particularly in and around the northeastern Syrian city of Idlib, near the border with Turkey.
Mr. Obama never said what, if anything, he would do if his much-ballyhooed red line was crossed. A year after he made his implied threat to punish the Damascus government, hundreds of women and children were slain on the outskirts of Damascus with Sarin gas, and nothing happened, except for his declaration that there were no more chemical weapons in Syria. In June last year U.N. officials made a similar declaration, asserting that “Syria’s chemical arsenal, including mustard gas and sarin, had been successfully removed.”
Now it turns out that only some chemicals were removed, leaving the Assad regime to stockpile chlorine. With the Foreign Affairs Committee about to take testimony from rescue workers recently back from northeast Syria, Mr. Kerry grudgingly acknowledges the grim facts. “We are certain that the preponderance of those attacks have been carried out by the regime, and we’re putting together a portfolio of that data that supports that even as we speak now,” Mr. Kerry says.
Mr. Kerry is the very U.S. official caving now in his negotiations with Iran, negotiations fraught with no less far-reaching and deadly consequences. A “portfolio” may be regarded as fearsome retaliation in the precincts of Foggy Bottom, but a portfolio has never frightened or intimidated an evildoer anywhere. Someone in this administration must summon the courage to act with fearless and decisive action.