The Corner

White Phosphorous and Red Lines

A video has surfaced from the Syrian opposition which appears to show a regime helicopter (an Mi-24 Hind) dropping white-phosphorous bombs, which are banned by international law as offensive weapons:

Stratfor explains, further, “A Syrian opposition activist said helicopters flown by regime forces dropped phosphorous bombs on Dayr al-Zawr, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat reported Dec. 7.”

White phosphorous is a brittle substance that burns extremely brightly. Phosphorous bombs are not completely banned by international law, because their use for illumination and, debatably, for intimidation purposes, is allowed; but the weapon can also cause severe chemical burns, harm victims with its vapor, and poison water or food supplies. (That said, Syria is not signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention regulating this, though almost every other nation in the world is.) 

This potential use of chemical weapons comes after sporadic reports of the regime’s use of cluster bombs, also banned by some international treaties (though again, to which Syria is not party). Now, on Wednesday, U.S. officials told NBC News that the regime has loaded the chemicals necessary to deploy sarin gas, a highly lethal chemical weapon, into bombs for use.

The U.S. had at one point seemed to declare that movement of chemical weapons in Syria would justify or require U.S. action, with President Obama declaring at an August 20 news conference that “a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized”; given that the gas is now being loaded into bombs, it seems fair to say, they have now been moved from their hiding places to bases from which they can be deployed. An NSC spokesman, however, claims that the president meant “‘moving around’ means proliferation,” which seems implausible: If the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons were in transit and about to fall into the hands of other states or non-state terrorist actors such as Hezbollah, that would constitute a “red line,” and presumably even this administration would not flinch in acting.

But that seems unlikely, something Assad has little interest in doing, and doesn’t seem to be what the president was talking about when he set his first “red line” — “moving around or being utilized” implies the first event as a hint that the second was about to occur (though we wouldn’t always be able to observe it before the second did), i.e., the Syrian government preparing its weapons, not transferring them to other actors — and now the Syrian government has done that, and the U.S. is not going to respond.

As to what the new red line implies, the State Department has not been very clear, either, with explaining what exactly the U.S. would do if Assad crosses the new red line. When asked yesterday if a redline would involve “some kind of a military response,” Deputy State spokesman Mark Toner responded that, “We’re not going to get into what the consequences would be, other than to say that there’s a red line. . . A red line is a red line.”

Patrick Brennan — Patrick Brennan is a writer and policy analyst based in Washington, D.C. He was Director of Digital Content for Marco Rubio's presidential campaign, writing op-eds, policy content, and leading the ...

Most Popular

PC Culture

Defiant Dave Chappelle

When Dave Chappelle’s Netflix special Sticks & Stones came out in August, the overwhelming response from critics was that it was offensive, unacceptable garbage. Inkoo Kang of Slate declared that Chappelle’s “jokes make you wince.” Garrett Martin, in the online magazine Paste, maintained that the ... Read More
Film & TV

Joker: An Honest Treatment of Madness

When I saw that the New York Times and The New Yorker had run columns berating the new Joker movie, criticizing it not simply on cinematic grounds but instead insisting that the film amounted to a clandestine defense of “whiteness” in an attempt to buttress the electoral aim of “Republicans” — this is a ... Read More

The Democrats’ Disastrous CNN LGBT Town Hall

A few days after Donald Trump committed the worst foreign-policy blunder of his presidency by betraying America’s Kurdish allies in northern Syria, former vice president Joe Biden, the elder statesman and co-frontrunner in the Democratic presidential primary, was on a national stage talking to CNN’s primetime ... Read More
White House

What Is Impeachment For?

W hat is impeachment for? Seems like a simple question. Constitutionally speaking, it also appears to have a simple answer: to cite and remove from power a president guilty of wrongdoing. Aye, there’s the rub. What sort of wrongdoing warrants removal from power? I’d wager that the flames of ... Read More

Beto Proposes to Oppress Church with State

Beto O’Rourke’s presidential campaign is within the margin of error of non-existence, but in his failure he has found a purpose: expressing the Democratic id. His latest bid for left-wing love came at a CNN forum on gay rights, where he said that churches that oppose same-sex marriage should have to pay ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Fox News Anchor Shepard Smith Resigns

Fox News Channel's chief anchor, Shepard Smith, announced on air Friday that he would be resigning from his post after 23 years with the network. “This is my last newscast here,” said Smith. “Recently, I asked the company to allow me to leave Fox News. After requesting that I stay, they obliged.” He ... Read More