The White House confirmed earlier today that the Syrian military has used chemical weapons against rebel forces:
Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said in a statement that U.S. intelligence agencies had concluded that between 100 and 150 Syrians died from the chemical weapons use.
“Following on the credible evidence that the regime has used chemical weapons against the Syrian people, the President has augmented the provision of non-lethal assistance to the civilian opposition, and also authorized the expansion of our assistance to the Supreme Military Council,” Rhodes said.
In August of last year, President Obama declared that the use of chemical weapons would cross a “red line,” and threatened that such a move would be met with a strong American response. At the time, he said:
We have communicated in no uncertain terms with every player in the region that that’s a red line for us and that there would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front or the use of chemical weapons. That would change my calculations significantly.
The White House’s acknowledgment that Syrian president Bashar Assad has used chemical weapons comes a week after French intelligence confirmed that the regime had used sarin gas against the rebels. When asked about the French reports last week, press secretary Jay Carney replied that the White Houses needed more time before it could confirm the result:
As the president made clear, we need to expand the evidence we have. \We need to make it reviewable. We need to have it corroborated before we make any decisions based on the clear violation the use of chemical weapons would represent by the Syrian regime. So we will continue in that effort.
Senator John McCain initially misunderstood the White House’s decision today, and commended the president for his leadership.
The president also will announce that we will be assisting the Syrian rebels by providing them with weapons and other assistance. I applaud the president’s decision.
A few minutes later, McCain corrected himself — the White House will provide more assistance to rebels, but hasn’t decided to arm them — and later issued a press release with Senator Lindsey Graham calling for the president to impose a no-fly zone and to begin supplying the rebels with weapons. McCain and Graham have been highly critical of President Obama’s reluctance to intervene in Syria. Yesterday, former president Bill Clinton criticized the White House’s response to the humanitarian crisis, warning that Obama may look like a “total fool” if he acts too cautiously.
Earlier today, the U.S. military’s provisional intervention proposal was leaked; should the White House decide to arm the rebels, the proposed plan involves a limited no-fly zone. To date, an estimated 93,000 people have been killed in the conflict.