Don’t look now, but the Assad regime is once again using chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war. Reports are that it has dropped chlorine gas on civilians in recent days.
Readers will recall that President Obama, working with Vladimir Putin, negotiated a deal to strip Assad of his chemical weapons. Unfortunately, chlorine was not part of the deal. This is odd because, as Max Boot reminds us, chlorine is the original chemical weapon, having been first used at the Battle of Ypres in 1915.
We know that Obama doesn’t drive hard bargains except with his two greatest enemies, Republicans and Israel. Even so the loophole for chlorine in his deal with Assad is scandalous. One can only imagine the loopholes Obama will accept in a nuclear deal with Iran.
Loophole or not, the use of chlorine still crosses Obama’s “red line” against using chemical weapons, which predates the Putin-brokered deal. Furthermore, on March 6 the U.N has passed a resolution condemning the use of chlorine gas in the Syrian civil war.
Boot suggests that Assad is testing the international community by employing chlorine gas in a series of small attacks. If there is no serious response, he likely will use it to kill on a broader scale. This is what Assad did with sarin gas — he started small and later unleashed an attack that killed 1,400 people.
Don’t expect a serious response from the Obama administration. For one thing, Assad is Iran’s ally, and Obama will not want to upset nuclear negotiations by taking a hard line against the mullahs’ client.
In addition, Secretary of State Kerry has spoken recently about negotiating with Assad. Negotiations aren’t inconsistent with taking a hard line, including military action, against the regime. Indeed, I view military action as a prerequisite for meaningful negotiations.
But this isn’t how Obama and Kerry view the world. For them, talk is always a substitute for action, not its precursor.
Accordingly, the Obama administration’s response to Assad’s latest crossing the alleged red line will likely be to avert its gaze.