Monday, April 29, 2013

Obama?s 'red line' on Syria: An Iraq-like 'slam dunk' moment?

President Obama said a 'red line' would be crossed if the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against rebels. Might that propel the US into war, as those elusive 'weapons of mass destruction' did in Iraq?

By Brad Knickerbocker,?Staff writer / April 27, 2013

President Barack Obama answers a question regarding the ongoing situation in Syria during his meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah II, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Friday.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP


For President Obama, the Syrian regime?s possible use of chemical weapons brings with it a political dilemma that can be summed up in two words: ?Slam dunk.?

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That was what then-CIA director George Tenet told the Bush White House about Iraq?s alleged possession of ?weapons of mass destruction? (WMD).

It was a phrase Mr. Tenet came to regret, asserting that others in the administration twisted its intended use ? that building public support for a US-led invasion of Iraq would be easy ? to make the CIA (and him in particular) the scapegoat when no WMD were found.

But Tenet admitted in his 2007 book ?At the Center of the Storm? that ?there was never a serious debate that I know of within the administration about the imminence of the Iraqi threat,? nor any in-depth discussion of possible alternatives to military invasion.

Fast-forward ten years since the beginning of the Iraq War ? which has cost 4,486 US military fatalities, plus at least several hundred US civilian contractors killed in Iraq ? and ?Iraq has informed every part of this debate? over Syria, writes Amy Davidson in the New Yorker.

The headline on a Politico piece reads: ?Iraq haunts President Obama?s Syria choices.?

?The ghosts of the Iraq War weigh heavily on the president and his top advisers handling the Syria crisis, according to former officials and analysts close to the administration,? writes Politico?s Josh Gerstein. ?They don?t want to get it wrong. They don?t want to move too quickly. They don?t want to spend the second term getting embroiled in toppling another Middle East dictator and cleaning up the aftermath after spending the first term getting untangled from the last war.?

It?s a specter with implications for Obama?s legacy; by nearly 2-to-1, Americans don?t think the war in Iraq was worth the cost.

In fact, Obama already has had a sort-of ?slam dunk? moment with his assertion that the Assad regime?s use of chemical weapons against Syrian rebels would constitute the crossing of an unacceptable ?red line,? with the implied warning that the US might then initiate a military response.

Has that red line been crossed?

"Our intelligence community does assess, with varying degrees of confidence, that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically, the chemical agent sarin," the White House said in a letter to members of Congress this week.

The operative phrase here seems to be ?small scale,? suggesting that the red line may have been nudged but not fully crossed. Speaking to reporters before meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah in the Oval Office Friday Obama implied as much.


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