The UN’s chemical weapons inspectors will likely release a report in the coming weeks detailing chemical weapons use by the Syrian regime embarrassing Obama’s “red line” compromise.
“We have been very clear to the Assad regime … that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized,” Obama told reporters in August 2012. A year later definitive reports confirmed widespread chemical weapons use by the Assad regime against civilians, including sarin gas.
Despite pressure from his own advisors, the international community, NATO, and U.S. allies, Obama demurred on his “red line.” Obama instead opted for a Russian-brokered deal with the Assad regime, in which Assad would give up his chemical weapons arsenal. “I’m very proud of this moment,” Obama told Jeffery Goldberg of The Atlantic. Obama elaborated, “I believe ultimately it was the right decision to make.”
Even Democratic Nominee Hillary Clinton disagreed with Obama’s decision at the time reportedly saying, “If you say you’re going to strike, you have to strike. There’s no choice.”
“Assad is effectively being rewarded for the use of chemical weapons, rather than ‘punished’ as originally planned,” Shadi Hamid, a Brookings Institute scholar wrote in The Atlantic in 2013. Assad has used the last three years to consolidate his position on the battlefield, and kill another 250,000 of his own people with conventional weapons.
Obama touts his chemical weapons deal as a face-saving way to stop chemical weapons use, without dragging the U.S. into a military confrontation with Syria. The 2016 UN report would repudiate Obama’s narrative that his deal succeeded, and could force an awkward confrontation in the UN security council.
Russia, an active military ally of the Assad regime, is likely to censor any serious UN Security Council Resolution, or sanctions against the Assad regime. Most of the post-2013 allegations against Assad involve the use of chlorine gas, which Assad was not required to turn over, but constitute a violation of the deal the Assad regime agreed to in 2013.
Reports indicate that the Obama administration is close to finalizing a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin to militarily cooperate in Syria. The deal will coordinate U.S. and Russian airstrikes against radical elements of the Syrian opposition. Critics counter that Russia has labeled any group that opposes the Assad regime as “terrorists,” and that the deal will make the U.S. complicit in ensuring Assad’s position for years to come.
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