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.