President Barack Obama faced a tough decision Friday, April 26, on how to handle Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons just a month after he warned it would be “game changer.”
The US intelligence community and the White House have now produced evidence that Assad has used chemical weapons against his own people and so crossed the red line Obama has repeatedly and publicly laid down for a US response. While extremely reluctant to embroil America in the Syrian war, those red lines would be discounted as meaningless by the world, the Middle East and Israel most of al, if he holds back now.
This loss of credibility and face would have three immediate consequences:
1. Assad will not stop using lethal chemicals against his people. After getting away with it scot-free, he will use them against any time he feels his regime has its back to the wall.
2. Tehran and Pyongyang will take US inaction on the Syrian chemical issue as a license to go forward and develop their nuclear and other sophisticated weapons without fear of forceful interference.
3. At some stage in the Syrian conflict, Assad will transfer to Hizballah a quantity of chemical weapons and other advanced war materiel as a reward for the Lebanese Shiite radicals’ stalwart battle in support of his regime. debkafile’s military sources have learned that preparations are already in train for the transfer.
Thursday, Israeli Air Force F-16 warplanes shot down opposite Haifa a drone Hizballah had sent winging toward Israel, but no firm response followed this provocation. Assad and Hizballah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah will certainly be encouraged by this non-response to risk going forward with the transfer in the belief that Israel will not interfere. And, so, chemical weapons will be allowed to reach a confirmed terrorist organization.
The way the White House communicated its message to Congress Thursday is as instructive as its content:
The member of the White House staff chosen to frame the communication was Miguel Rodriguez, White House director of the Office of Legislative Affairs. It was couched in the language of a legal document rather than a policy statement on a high-powered foreign issue of the utmost military and strategic concern:
“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," Rodriguez wrote.
"Given the stakes involved, and what we have learned from our own recent experiences, intelligence assessments alone are not sufficient – only credible and corroborated facts that provide us with some degree of certainty will guide our decision-making.”
For a pointer to how Obama may address a nuclear-armed Iran, this same document could be applied simply by substituting “The Islamic Republic of Iran” for the “Syrian regime” and “nuclear weapons” for “chemical weapons.”
The document also administered a cold shower from the boss for the two senior members of the Obama administration Thursday and their revelations Thursday.
Secretary of State John Kerry disposed of diplomatic ifs and buts when he said: The Syrian government has launched two chemical weapons attacks.
Somewhat more cautiously, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said: The US intelligence community has determined with "varying degrees of confidence" that Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces have used the nerve agent sarin against civilians and forces fighting to remove Assad from power.”
Any use of chemical weapons, Hagel said, would violate standards of warfare.
The White House is informing Congress about the chemical weapons use now, Hagel said.
This was a reversal of the reservations the defense secretary had voiced that morning about the assessment heard from the Israeli military intelligence officer Brig. Gen. Itai Brun that the Syrian army had used chemical weapons.
debkafile’s Washington sources report speculation in the US capital that the president may settle his dilemma with an indirect military response to the Syrian chemical crisis, by deploying US troops on the Jordanian-Syrian border. It would be hoped that Damascus, and Tehran too, would be deterred by seeing American troops in place and therefore in position for a military response to the use of – or advance toward – weapons of mass destruction.
This deployment was to be finally decided at the White House Friday when President Obama heard visiting Jordan’s King Abdullah voice acute concerns about the Syrian threat to his country.