TIME Magazine’s chief foreign affairs correspondent Michael Crowley on Friday assessed that the policy debate in Washington over how to approach the Syrian war may soon shift back to “talk of military action,” as Obama administration officials “brac[ed] for confirmation – in weeks or even days – that chemical warfare is underway again” inside the war-torn country:
Assad’s brazen return to warfare by poison gas puts Obama in a miserable spot. The White House will have two main options. One is react with fury and revive the threat of air strikes. “It is clear to me,” says James Jeffrey, a former Bush deputy national security advisor and Obama’s first ambassador to Iraq, “that the only position Obama can take is to say that the U.S. takes this seriously as a violation of our red line, and if that if chlorine gas is used again by regime forces, ‘I will use military force.’”
The dynamic is being driven by a stream of evidence – beginning weeks ago with French reports of “indications” and extending through just-published videos – that the Bashar al-Assad regime has been engaged in a systematic campaign to deploy chlorine-based chemical weapons (CWs) against rebel-heavy areas throughout Syria.
Crowley contextualized the emerging data points against what he described as “one of the most dramatic moments of Barack Obama’s presidency,” when last September the president “delivered a prime-time national address to explain why he intended to order a military strike on Syria to punish the use of nerve gas against civilians in violation of the red line he had famously drawn for Assad.”
Impending strikes had been called off under the auspices of a Russian deal that obligated Syria to join the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and turn over its vast stockpile of CWs for destruction. The regime has declared in recent weeks that it is unable to meet the latter obligation because of heavy fighting around what is thought to be roughly the remaining 5 percent of proscribed materials, while the use of chlorine in a battlefield context would violate its CWC obligations. Crowley suggested that any confirmation of such use would “again test [Obama’s] credibility, and renew talk of U.S. military action in Syria.”
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