“Chemicals? He used chemicals, and there is evidence,” [Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim] Al Thani said, referring to Assad. He described the Syrian ruler’s strategy as an attempt to “test your reactions” and incrementally cross U.S. President Barack Obama’s “red lines.” Al Thani did not say whether Qatar had made its own independent assessment of the use of chemical weapons, or whether it was relying on other countries’ reports.
The US, though, is sticking to what it knows. As Bloomberg reports:
“We have not come to the conclusion that there has been that use,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters in Washington [yesterday]. “It is precisely because of the seriousness of the use of chemical weapons—and the seriousness with which the president made clear that that use would be unacceptable—that it is incumbent upon us and our partners to investigate thoroughly and validate or verify allegations of chemical weapons use.”
“Suspicions are one thing,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters. “Evidence is another.”We can’t be sure if Assad is really dancing on Obama’s red line, but a number of our allies are convinced that he is. What will the Obama administration do if it finds the evidence it needs? The President has repeatedly said this is a “red line” and “unacceptable.” What does that mean? The Syrian civil war is now so complicated and has destroyed so much of Syria and its people, radicalizing combatants and civilians alike, that it is much harder to accomplish American goals there than it was when this conflict was only a few months old. More than that, American dithering has sent a clear signal to Iran: dance on the red lines, cross them if you want; we won’t come after you until it’s too late.UPDATE: Chuck Hagel is now “confident” Syria has used chemical weapons, according to the BBC. More to come.UPDATE 2: The White House has acknowledged for the first time that chemical weapons have been used in Syria.[Photo of Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani courtesy of Getty]