Barack Obama has said weapons of mass destruction would be a “red line” in the Syria conflict. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais.)
President Obama set a trap for himself last year, when he said that if Syria were to use chemical weapons in the civil war there it would be a “game changer” that would trigger direct US involvement. Now, it appears, he’s stepped in it.
In 2012, Obama managed to veto a plan proposed to him by nearly his entire national security team, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, General Martin Dempsey of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and, last but not least, General David Petraeus of the CIA. Among other things, they wanted the United States to send advanced weapons to the rebels in Syria, many of whom are radical-right, fundamentalist Muslims allied to Al Qaeda. Rightly, Obama said no. But the “red line” about Syrian weapons of mass destruction was left open.
If, indeed, the United States goes to war in Syria, it will look less like Iraq 2003–11 and more like Afghanistan 1979–88, that is, a war in which the United States backs an Islamist-dominated insurgency against a Russian-backed regime. Of course, the United States is already involved. The CIA is training Syrian rebels in Jordan, and it is coordinating the flow of arms to the rebel fighters from their anti-democratic, kleptocratic backers in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who see the battle in Syria in part as a Sunni-led jihad against an apostate, quasi-Shiite government controlled by the Alawites and allied to Iran.
Does Obama want to get mixed up even further in a Sunni-Shiite regional conflict, one that is already having blackly devastating effects next door in Iraq? Let’s hope not.
Virtually the entire right, from John McCain to The Wall Street Journal to the neoconservative movement and The Washington Times, is thumping the tubs for war against Syria. Now that the White House has acknowledged, with some caveats, that sarin gas has apparently been used in Syria, President Obama will come under enormous, and probably irresistible, pressure to go to war. Still, the White House is cautious in its assessments, and in its letter to Congress the White House said:
Given the stakes involved, and what we have learned from our own recent experience, intelligence assessments alone are not sufficient. Only credible and corroborated facts that provide us with some degree of certainty will guide our decision-making.