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Obama's 'red line' blurred in Syria

Editorial

Did they or didn't they?

No one seems to know with certainty.

The White House said Thursday that U.S. intelligence officials believe that Syria likely has used chemical weapons on a small scale, in particular the deadly chemical sarin.

Sarin is a chemical whose production and stockpiling has been outlawed for 20 years. It attacks a person's nervous system, causing the individual to lose control of bodily functions, jerk uncontrollably and then suffocate because the lungs stop working. Death can come as quickly as one minute after sarin is ingested. The gas doesn't have to be inhaled; it can be absorbed through the skin. Anyone who comes into contact with a person shortly after that person has been exposed can become contaminated as well. Those who do not receive a lethal dose of the nerve agent can suffer permanent neurological injury if not immediately treated.

It is a horrible weapon, one that no government of conscious would use, particularly against its own people.

President Barack Obama has said that use of chemical warfare against opposition forces by President Bashar al-Assad's regime would be crossing a "red line," ostensibly one that would result in America stepping up its involvement in the Syrian civil war.

The statement Thursday by the White House caught many by surprise, since administration officials such as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had downplayed Israel's contentions that chemical agents had been used by Assad's regime. Indications are that the Israeli intelligence was based on photographic evidence that was consistent with the effects of chemical poisoning. Britain and France also have concluded that Syria is using chemicals against the opposition.

If sarin has been used, it has been limited. Intelligence officials have noted a lack of mass casualties that might be expected from use of chemical weapons.

Thursday's announcement was enough for some, including U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to call for U.S. action, but the line that was crossed wasn't red enough for the administration, which says U.S. intelligence has "varying degrees of confidence" that sarin is being used.

What's come into play is this: The Obama administration doesn't want another Iraq, a 10-year-long war that was launched on faulty intelligence that Saddam Hussein was in possession of chemical, nuclear and biological weapons. Obama is looking for irrefutable evidence that chemical warfare has been employed. Indications were that the U.S. has more than mere photographs as far as evidence, but not enough to convince Obama to do anything.

At least, not yet.

The United States certainly doesn't want to make a misstep here, but neither can we turn our back on our allies. If the line is blurry now, it will sharpen. Obama has clearly stated that use of chemical weapons in Syria is a game-changer, and there is no way to back away from that commitment.

-- The Albany Herald Editorial Board

Comments

LoneCycler 1 year, 7 months ago

First of all, this entire talk of a red line is meaningless with this administration. President Obama never heard of a “red line” before Israel PM Netanyahu showed him what one was, and that was in relation to Iran, not Syria. In closing the article states “neither can we turn our back on our allies.” Please explain who these “allies” of ours in Syria are. The only thing going on here is that Obama is trying to figure out how to not look like Clinton did when he stood idly by while 800,000 people were murdered by Hutu death squads in Rwanda in a few months of 1994. Obama doesn’t care about foreign policy; or the politics of the middle east. His focus is on transforming America into a socialist state. On the Syrian civil war the president is once again “leading from behind.”

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Trustbuster 1 year, 7 months ago

I agree. This is a civil war and we should stay out unless American citizens are trapped there. We cannot police the world. Humanitarian interventionism cannot be applied to every distress if so then we should invade N. Korea and Iran. A pro-American govt. is unlikely to emerge in this situation given Iran's involvement.

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