By Teresa Welsh |
The Obama administration last week told members of Congress that it believes the Bashar Assad regime in Syria "has used chemical weapons on a small scale" during its ongoing battle with various rebel groups. "We believe that the Assad regime maintains custody of these weapons and has demonstrated a willingness to escalate its horrific use of violence against the Syrian people," the letter said.
Last year, President Obama said that the potential use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime represented a "red line" that, if crossed, would entice more U.S. involvement in the conflict. "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," Obama said. "That would change my calculus; that would change my equation."
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon yesterday called for Syria to allow weapons inspectors into the country in order to "establish the facts and clear up all the doubts" regarding the use of chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, which disrupts the nervous system of its victims, ultimately paralyzing and suffocating them.
Over the weekend, several members of Congress called on the administration to back up its tough talk with action. "The problem is, you know, the president has laid down the line," said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., who chairs the House Intelligence Committee. "And it can't be a dotted line. It can't be anything other than a red line."
Some lawmakers are calling for the imposition of a no-fly zone over Syria and for the U.S. to arm Syrian rebels (a situation complicated by the fact that, as the New York Times reported on Sunday, "More than two years of violence have radicalized the armed opposition fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad, leaving few groups that both share the political vision of the United States and have the military might to push it forward.")
But even the most hawkish of U.S. lawmakers are not ready for Obama to commit troops just yet. "The worst thing the United States could do right now is put boots on the ground in Syria," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
So should the Obama administration be doing more now that Syria may have crossed its "red line"? Here's the Debate Club's take:
Charles Dunne Director of Middle East and North Africa Programs at Freedom House