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White House Cautious On Chemical Attack


While France’s foreign minister demanded that “a reaction of force must be taken” if it turns out Assad was behind yesterday’s chemical weapons attack in Damascus, Time is reporting that the tone coming out of the White House is decidedly… less decisive:

“We are calling for this U.N. investigation to be conducted,” said Obama spokesman Josh Earnest. “This is a situation that is ongoing, and our efforts to work with the international community and to work with the Syrian opposition to remove Assad from power are ongoing.” […]

“The current red line is drawn along the lines of ‘systematic’ use of weapons of mass destruction,” says Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “So, the question is, Do they mean systematic in terms of the number of incidents over time — or in terms of scale? If proven true, this event probably qualifies as scale. But the problem is, the red line keeps moving over time.” […]

The attack comes days after a U.N. team finally arrived in Syria to investigate those past incidents. Wednesday’s attack occurred within 5 miles of the Four Seasons hotel where the U.N. workers were sleeping. […]

But the team’s original mandate did not include determining which side might have used such weapons — only whether they were used.

This noncommittal stance might be judged prudent if we didn’t know anything else about the Obama administration’s intentions in the Middle East. But we have plenty of prior evidence that Washington is determined to avoid intervening in another Middle East war at all costs—Obama’s two-step over the chemical weapons “red line” language is Exhibit A—so we’re not exactly holding our breaths for punitive air strikes against Assad’s regime any time soon.

And with the UN tied up in knots by the Russians and Chinese, the butcher’s gamble may in fact pay off.

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  • Fat_Man

    If by cautious you mean playing the three monkeys, yes they are cautious.

  • USNK2
    “Why Syria’s Southern Front Should Give the West Hope”
    Michael Weiss details, to the tribal and neighborhood level, who the Syrian rebels are, and, maybe there IS a moderate non-Islamist opposition to Assad.
    Very helpful read to start separating who is fighting who.
    Just like reading Al-Ahram helps to better understand the Bedouin realities in the Sinai.
    It’s not always about what Obama says

  • Alexander Scipio

    1. Given the need of Islamists for martyrs and media, and given the video from Egypt two weeks ago in which one MB supporter shoots another MB supporter in the head as they march toward the Army, how do we know this was Assad & not al Qaeda?

    2. Why does the West deem it more moral to starve or kill people one-at-a-time than to kill them in bunches?

    3. Wars are won not by killing opposition fighters, who are only tools of policy, but by destroying the opposition polity. It is immature – and over the long run WORSE for both sides to pretend that “limited” war or counterinsurgency work. Who was a better ally 20 years on: Germany or Japan in 1965? Or Vietnam in 1995? Germany & Japan both were more prosperous, better educated and freer than ever before in their history. No one EVER will be able to say this about Vietnam, N Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. Western leaders need to man-up and LEARN FROM HISTORY.

    • Corlyss

      “how do we know this was Assad & not al Qaeda?”
      The answer is irrelevant. Obama isn’t going to do anything except make more empty speeches. That is his forte.

      • bpuharic

        And the right wing solution in’d that work out?

    • Matt B

      It’s a fair question why the West should be upset about chemical weapons when Assad has been bombing, shelling and shooting civilians en masse for months. I think the principle is that this genie should never be let out of the bottle. It sets a precedent that could lead to more use, and death on a massive scale.

      I guess Obama shares your view, which is that not too many people were killed in this attack, relatively speaking, so no “red lines” have been crossed.

  • Tom Servo

    Assad could cook and eat a baby on live TV and Obama wouldn’t do anything about it. Still, in his manifest incompetence and mendacity, he may accidentally be doing the right thing. Muslims killing muslims – why should even one American soldier die to stop that from happening? They’re going to kill somebody, it’s all that they do, so best for the rest of us if they spend all their time and effort on each other.

    • Fred

      I certainly agree about Middle Easterners (I wouldn’t necessarily extend that to all Muslims; some are more civilized than others), but while keeping those savages killing each other instead of us may be a good idea, President Gelding made a bold and very public statement that we would not tolerate use of chemical weapons and when they were used, he dithered and equivocated. That makes the U.S. look weak and undependable in the eyes of allies and enemies alike.

  • Corlyss

    Punting to the UN=a declaration of disinterest.

    • bpuharic

      Has any right winger here told us WHY we SHOULD be interested?

  • BrianFrankie

    Oh, I think Assad pretty accurately has the measure of President Obama. As the Onion puts it:,33590/

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