At the daily White House briefing Wednesday, Deputy White House spokesman Josh Earnest appeared to walk back President Obama’s now infamous “red line” comment regarding the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict.
Earnest also moved away from Obama’s claim that “enormous consequences” would result if Syrian president Bashar al-Assad went too far, prompting skepticism even from the usually compliant White House press corps.
Responding to questions about the apparent chemical weapons attack overnight in Syria, Earnest appeared to punt responsibility for future action on to the United Nations.
“What we think is most important for right now is there actually happens to be a United Nations chemical weapons investigative team on the ground in Syria,” Earnest said. “They were just granted access to the country yesterday I believe.”
Earnest continued: “So given the reports that we’ve seen overnight about what may or may not have taken place in Syria, we think it is important for that investigative team to be given access to that area.”
The apparent nerve gas attack, in the suburb of Ghouta, began at 2 a.m. local Syrian time when forces loyal to Assad reportedly fired gas-warhead-equipped rockets into the district just outside of Damascus.
The White House’s previous forceful position on Assad leaves Obama with limited wiggle room after the release of footage posted today to Youtube and Liveleak showing the aftermath of the attack — including dozens of dead victims, many of them small children, showing symptoms consistent with a chemical attack.
Casualty figures are unknown, with numbers ranging from the hundreds to the thousands depending upon the source.
Many experts also doubt the White House’s appeal to the expertise of United Nations inspectors. Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, writing in a Wall Street Journal oped in April, said U.N. inspectors have “as much chance of conducting a thorough inspection inside Syria as the Israeli national symphony.”
Pictures posted online show rows of bodies of adults and children opposition forces claim are the victims of the attack.