President Obama is in the Mideast, geographically not all that far from where Bashar Assad may be using chemical weapons against his own people.
Verification of that would be a “red line” for the administration to get involved militarily—something the president wants to avoid after the debacle in Libya. (Apparently it’s tough learning on the job that the world isn’t the White House press corps; it doesn’t get all weak-kneed at the sound of your voice.)
So this is no surprise, whether or not it’s true:
U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford testified today that the Obama administration has not uncovered any evidence of the use of chemical weapons in Syria, but he warned that if the Assad regime uses or loses any of its stockpile, “there will be consequences.”
“So far we have no evidence to substantiate the reports that chemical weapons were used yesterday,” Ford testified during an ongoing hearing at the House Foreign Affairs committee in Washington.
Obama’s reluctance to get involved in Syria’s civil war is wise. Of course, it contradicts his rationale two years ago for involvement in Libya:
Facing accusations that he has not explained the United States’ interest in Libya’s war, Obama said the nation had a responsibility to prevent a mass killing after Gaddafi pledged to carry out a brutal reprisal campaign against civilians in rebel-held territory.
Well, in Syria, the death toll is many times greater than Libya’s was when the president spoke those words: at least 70,000. Yet in Syria, the red line is WMD use.
Why the change? It might have something to do with the fact that WMD use wasn’t a distinct possibility in Libya, given that Khadafy was so terrified of George Bush after Iraq that he voluntarily abandoned his program.
No doubt the president fears supporting a coalition effort that results in the deaths of good guys, American or not, from chemical or even biological weapons. The political damage would be devastating.
So the redrawn red line turns out to be ironic flypaper. If he acknowledges WMD use, he has to take action. And action means deaths, possibly grotesque deaths, shown on American television. Ergo, seeing no evil is a strategic necessity, no matter how many Syrians die.
We’ve been here before. In 1994, Bill Clinton chose not to see how many Tutsis were being slaughtered by Hutus in Rwanda.
In reality the United States did much more than fail to send troops. It led a successful effort to remove most of the UN peacekeepers who were already in Rwanda. It aggressively worked to block the subsequent authorization of UN reinforcements. It refused to use its technology to jam radio broadcasts that were a crucial instrument in the coordination and perpetuation of the genocide. And even as, on average, 8,000 Rwandans were being butchered each day, U.S. officials shunned the term “genocide,” for fear of being obliged to act. The United States in fact did virtually nothing “to try to limit what occurred.” Indeed, staying out of Rwanda was an explicit U.S. policy objective.
The author of those words, which appeared in The Atlantic two weeks before the 9/11 attacks, was Samantha Power—who spent the last four years as special assistant to the president, senior director for multilateral affairs and human rights at the National Security Council, and the foremost proponent of America’s Libyan intervention.DONATE
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