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Red Line or Punch Line?

Let me see if I’ve got this straight: U.S. intelligence agencies are reported by the Los Angeles Times to be in agreement “that Syrians have been exposed to deadly sarin gas in recent weeks,” but they refuse to blame the Syrian regime “because of the possibility — however small — that the exposure was accidental or caused by rebel fighters or others outside the Syrian government’s control.”

If the Times is to be believed, this, apparently, is the fig leaf that President Obama is using to justify his inaction even after it is clear to the entire world that Bashar Assad has flagrantly violated the “red line” laid down by the president. Are we seriously to believe that rebels somehow have taken chemical weapons out of Assad’s stockpiles and are using it on Syrian civilians themselves? If you believe this, then I have some fine beachfront property in Syria to sell you.

Instead of doing something about Assad’s war crimes, Obama prefers to ask for a full United Nations investigation, which could take years–if ever–to reach a definitive finding.

This is rapidly turning the U.S. into a global joke: the superpower that issues ultimatums it has no intention of enforcing. But the consequences of inaction are no joke because they are, as former U.S. army officer Joseph Holliday argues, a virtual invitation for Assad, now that he has seen the world will do nothing, to expand his use of chemical weapons.

By preferring to look the other way, Obama is repeating the experience of the 1990s when the Clinton administration ignored the genocide in Rwanda–something that Bill Clinton subsequently said he regretted.

Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former official in Obama’s own State Department, offers a devastating critique of the president’s inaction in this op-ed, which draws a comparison with the risible efforts of a State Department spokeswoman in 1994 to differentiate “acts of genocide”–which, she admitted, had occurred in Rwanda–from “genocide” pure and simple, which might actually demand an American response.

Obama set up the Atrocities Prevention Board a year ago precisely to avoid similar inaction in the future. “Preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States,” Obama said. Yet this vaunted board has been as silent as the rest of the administration in the face of Assad’s mass atrocities. Perhaps the administration can now explain why Assad’s actions constitute “acts of atrocity” rather than “atrocities” themselves.


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