Publisher's Note: One of the most significant things you can do to promote Liberty is to support our mission. Please make your gift to the 2021 Year-End Campaign today. Thank you! —Mark Alexander, Publisher

Michael Barone / March 31, 2015

Where the Red Line Came From – Before It Was Crossed

There are still nearly two years left in Barack Obama’s presidency, but historians looking back on his record in foreign policy will surely identify one costly error: his refusal to follow through on the implied threat in stating that the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons would be a “red line.” That statement was made in a press conference on Monday, Aug. 20, 2012. The president was not scheduled to appear; press secretary Jay Carney said, “Looks like there’s a surprise guest here.” After fielding questions on other topics (Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin, Mitt Romney’s attack ads and tax returns, friendly fire deaths in Afghanistan) Obama responded to NBC’s Chuck Todd’s question on whether he envisioned using U.S. military to keep Syria’s chemical weapons in safekeeping.

There are still nearly two years left in Barack Obama’s presidency, but historians looking back on his record in foreign policy will surely identify one costly error: his refusal to follow through on the implied threat in stating that the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons would be a “red line.”

That statement was made in a press conference on Monday, Aug. 20, 2012. The president was not scheduled to appear; press secretary Jay Carney said, “Looks like there’s a surprise guest here.” After fielding questions on other topics (Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin, Mitt Romney’s attack ads and tax returns, friendly fire deaths in Afghanistan) Obama responded to NBC’s Chuck Todd’s question on whether he envisioned using U.S. military to keep Syria’s chemical weapons in safekeeping.

“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.

“We have communicated in no uncertain terms with every player in the region that that’s a red line for us and that there would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front or the use of chemical weapons.” After that question, the press conference was over.

This was one year and two days after Obama said, “the time has come for President Assad to step aside.” Which, of course, he didn’t do and, two-and-a-half years later, hasn’t done.

It was also three months after Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney called for arming Syrian opposition groups and one week before the scheduled opening of the Republican National Convention.

And one month after U.S. intelligence agencies detected signs that the Assad regime was moving chemical weapons out of storage, according to a May 2013 story by the well-sourced Peter Baker and three New York Times colleagues.

Perhaps presidential politics was on Obama’s mind. Four days after the press conference, Romney said he would send troops to Syria to prevent the spread of chemical weapons. Obama may have communicated his “red line” – which seemed to suggest similar action – to pre-empt a Republican attack.

Or perhaps, as the Times story suggests, he spoke out of concern that Israel might take action. It reported that Denis McDonough, then-deputy national security adviser, convened a “frantic series of meetings” on the weekend of Aug. 18-19 on the issue where it was decided that Obama would address the issue publicly.

Hence his surprise appearance in the pressroom. But the Times also reported that “red line” was “unscripted and that some advisers were surprised he uttered those words.” But he apparently decided not to take the words back. On the day following the press conference, spokesman Josh Earnest said that “use or proliferation” of chemical weapons “would be very serious, and it would be a grave mistake.”

If Obama wanted to protect against political attacks, he succeeded. Syria was mentioned 28 times in the Oct. 22 foreign policy debate with Romney, in which Obama held his own.

But after he was re-elected, intelligence agencies reported chemical weapons attacks in Syria in December 2012 and March 2013. An April letter to senators acknowledged that U.S. intelligence thought the Syrian regime was using chemical weapons “on a small scale.”

In an April 30 press conference, Obama shifted his emphasis, saying that chemical weapons use “would be a game-changer not simply for the United States but for the international community.” In September, after it became clear Syria was using chemical weapons, Obama shifted further, saying, “I didn’t set a red line. The world set a red line.”

Shortly afterward the red line vanished, as Obama ruled out military action and accepted Vladimir Putin’s offer to supervise removal of Syrian chemical weapons. But the damage was done. “The president bungled the language,” concluded longtime Washington Post diplomatic reporter Glenn Kessler. “He made it appear as if he was denying he had called it a red line, when that obviously was not the case.”

Unfortunately, bungling of language has consequences. Government leaders use words like “red line” to mean that grave consequences – including military action – will follow if the line is crossed. Obama’s failure to back up his “red line” statement with such action has undermined America’s credibility. That’s a problem for America – and the world – until Jan. 20, 2017.

COPYRIGHT 2015 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER
DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

Start a conversation using these share links:

Who We Are

The Patriot Post is a highly acclaimed weekday digest of news analysis, policy and opinion written from the heartland — as opposed to the MSM’s ubiquitous Beltway echo chambers — for grassroots leaders nationwide. More

What We Offer

On the Web

We provide solid conservative perspective on the most important issues, including analysis, opinion columns, headline summaries, memes, cartoons and much more.

Via Email

Choose our full-length Digest or our quick-reading Snapshot for a summary of important news. We also offer Cartoons & Memes on Monday and Alexander’s column on Wednesday.

Our Mission

The Patriot Post is steadfast in our mission to extend the endowment of Liberty to the next generation by advocating for individual rights and responsibilities, supporting the restoration of constitutional limits on government and the judiciary, and promoting free enterprise, national defense and traditional American values. We are a rock-solid conservative touchstone for the expanding ranks of grassroots Americans Patriots from all walks of life. Our mission and operation budgets are not financed by any political or special interest groups, and to protect our editorial integrity, we accept no advertising. We are sustained solely by you. Please support The Patriot Fund today!

★ PUBLIUS ★

“Our cause is noble; it is the cause of mankind!” —George Washington

The Patriot Post is protected speech, as enumerated in the First Amendment and enforced by the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, in accordance with the endowed and unalienable Rights of All Mankind.

Copyright © 2021 The Patriot Post. All Rights Reserved.

The Patriot Post does not support Internet Explorer. We recommend installing the latest version of Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox, or Google Chrome.