Whoever becomes the next defense secretary is going to have their work cut out for them, thanks to President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton. Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin reported that the State Department has concluded that Bashar al-Assad’s forces have indeed used chemical weapons against civilians in the Syrian civil war. The use of chemical weapons, of course, has been the Obama administration’s declared red line for U.S. action against Bashar al-Assad’s regime. As Rogin noted:
“The use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable,” Obama said Dec. 3, directing his comments at Assad. “If you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there will be consequences and you will be held accountable.” That same day, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton added: “we are certainly planning to take action if that eventuality were to occur.”
It now seems clear that the emperor has no clothes: Obama’s red lines are meant as fancy declarations for U.S. consumption, but should not be taken seriously by America’s adversaries. The problem will not be limited to Syria: Obama has said repeatedly that Iran’s development of nuclear weapons would be a red line that the Islamic Republic should not cross. The president’s nomination of Chuck Hagel has already raised doubts about White House seriousness, no matter how much Hagel and his allies try to erase or re-spin his previous record. Now, however, the Islamic Republic will figure that if they not only go up to the line in the sand but cross it, the consequence will be … silence.
America’s Persian Gulf allies will also be watching the American reaction (or lack thereof). After all, why should anyone take seriously U.S. security guarantees when the consequence for using weapons of mass destruction is silence from the White House or perhaps the president’s early departure to the golf course. How wonderful it must be to get a 3 a.m. phone call, and either ignore it or forward it to the French.