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Obama’s “Green Line” for Syria (and other autocrats).

“We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation. . . . We’re monitoring that situation very carefully. We have put together a range of contingency plans.” — Barack Obama, August 2012.

My how things change in 9 months. Since then there have been multiple government intelligence agencies determine that Syria is using chemical weapons on its rebelling population — most recently through finding the nerve agent sarin in blood samples of its victims.

Here’s the president now:

“And what we now have is evidence that chemical weapons have been used inside of Syria, but we don’t know how they were used, when they were used, who used them. We don’t have a chain of custody that establishes what exactly happened. And when I am making decisions about America’s national security and the potential for taking additional action in response to chemical weapon use, I’ve got to make sure I’ve got the facts. That’s what the American people would expect. And if we end up rushing to judgment without hard, effective evidence, then we can find ourselves in a position where we can’t mobilize the international community to support what we do.”

[LA Times] “By ‘game changer,’ I mean that we would have to rethink the range of options that are available to us,” he said. If the White House obtains conclusive proof of poison gas use, “that means that there’s some options that we might not otherwise exercise that we would … strongly consider.”

In other words, CSI Syria. If they use chemical weapons one more time, just one more time, then I as president will be forced to strongly consider options… and if they use chemical weapons after that, well, then I’d be forced to even more strongly consider even more strongly considered options!  Wow. Is this really the party of Kennedy, Truman, FDR, and Andrew Jackson? The Obama administration has issued far harsher statements toward the NRA and the Catholic church!

The WSJ calls this backtrack what it is — not a line at all.

This [Obama’s shift in position] is a chain of required proof intended to make sure there’s never enough evidence to justify intervention. News reports say the British and French evidence of chemicals is based on blood samples from victims. But it will be all but impossible to prove “what exactly happened” in a war zone. As for the “international community,” this euphemism for the United Nations will be a barrier to factual discovery and honest conclusions just as it has been an obstacle to deposing Assad. Presidents who want tyrants to believe them shouldn’t write red lines in the sand.

This isn’t to say we should begin massing troops on their border, but one should at least posture in a more condemning and assertive manner — especially when it was the president himself who boxed the country into this anemic position last August.

I like the way John Bolton worded it:

What do “game changer” and “enormous consequences” mean to Mr. Obama? On Syria, he wants a comprehensive U.N. investigation, relying on the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the World Health Organization—which have as much chance of conducting a thorough inspection inside Syria as the Israeli national symphony. No doubt we will soon hear calls for International Criminal Court indictments of Assad and his henchmen for crimes against humanity. That, in State Department parlance, would be a “strong signal,” probably followed by a “stiff note” to Assad’s friends in the Kremlin. How they will tremble in Damascus.

Mr. Obama would have been better advised to draw a different “red line,” committing the U.S. to preventing any chemical weapons or components from falling into terrorists’ hands or being transported outside Syria. This would have required careful scrutiny of Assad’s chemical-weapons stockpiles, as well as military action to destroy the stockpiles if they were about to fall into radical opposition hands, or started moving toward Syria’s borders.

In short, says Bolton, the president has loudly announced “that he is not a force to be reckoned with.”

Another consideration: With such a lackluster response, do you think it makes it more or less likely that Israel takes unilateral action against Iran’s nuclear program, or even against Syria’s chemical weapons program, when they see their supposedly strongest ally’s president water down his self-imposed “red line”?