Several Obama advisers wish they could “take back” the red line set forth by the president in August with regard to Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons.
A report in the New York Times indicates that President Obama’s vow that the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons would change his calculus in the region took his national-security advisers by surprise. Nuance discussed in closed-door administration meetings was “completely dropped,” they said.
Despite the initial surprise of administration officials, however, the president’s move to lay down a red line was considered to have been successful when, in the following months, no evidence of a chemical-weapons attack emerged. After intelligence reports indicated the regime was moving its weapons stockpiles and preparing them for use, the president intended the red line act as a deterrent. A March 19 attack west of Aleppo made clear the administration had failed, and Obama now finds himself trying to lawyer his way out of the situation he created. In a press conference earlier this week, the red line morphed into what the president called a “range of options” he will consider if presented with incontrovertible evidence that chemical weapons have been used by the Assad regime.
Administration officials also raised concerns about obtaining authorization for an American intervention in Syria the red line could necessitate. “How can we attack another country unless it’s in self-defense and with no Security Council resolution?” on adviser asked. “If he drops sarin on his own people, what’s that got to do with us?”