The red line revisited (or not)

Four years ago President Obama declared that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad had to go. As Assad held on, Obama elaborated on his thinking at a 2012 press conference in Stockholm, drawing his infamous red line:

I have, at this point, not ordered military engagement in the situation. But the point that you made about chemical and biological weapons is critical. That’s an issue that doesn’t just concern Syria; it concerns our close allies in the region, including Israel. It concerns us. We cannot have a situation where chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people.

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. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.

On August 21, 2013, Assad crossed Obama “red line” with a sarin gas attack on Syrians in Ghouta on the outskirts of Damascus, no less. Joby Warrick reported the attack later that month in the Washington Post story “More than 1,400 killed in chemical weapons attack, U.S. says.” The United States subsequently identified the chemical in issue as sarin gas.

Two years later, Assad not only remains in office, Obama is desperately has teamed up with Assad’s indispensable Iranian patron in Iraq and further seeks the arrangement in process with Iran. Obama has now assured the Iranians that in one of his secret letters that American efforts in Syria do not seek the removal of Assad. So reported Jay Solomon and Carol Lee in the Wall Street Journal this past November.

This is all ancient history, of course. Obama’s red line has become a joke. Assad will survive in office long after Obama is gone.

On 60 Minutes last night, the opening segment revisited Assad’s crossing of Obama’s red line with the sarin gas attack in August 2013. The segment included graphic footage not previously broadcast showing victims including children dead and dying. The segment was broadcast under the title “A crime against humanity” (video below, transcript here).

Missing from the segment is any mention of Obama’s red line. Someone has deposited it down the memory hole. Who could it be?

Obama has not disappeared entirely. Rather, Obama appears fleetingly in the segment as a great benefactor of humanity: “With the threat of airstrikes, President Obama forced Assad to give up his chemical arsenal.”

CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley reported the segment. In a sidebar to the segment, Pelley takes us “Behind 60 Minutes’ decision to show disturbing video” (below). Pelley congratulates himself and CBS for broadcasting the footage.

In her book Stonewalled, Sharyl Attkisson devotes a section to the ascent of Scott Pelley to the anchor position at the CBS Evening News. She shows him to be a ruthless protector of Obama, along with 60 Minutes itself. Pelley and his executive producer at the CBS Evening News killed Attkisson’s proposed investigative pieces on Obama administration scandals. Along with CBS News president David Rhodes, who killed what would have been Attkisson’s exclusive interview with Nakoula Basseley Nakoula upon his release from a halfway house in California, the arrival of the Pelley era at CBS News constituted the proximate cause of Attkisson’s decision to depart the company. Pelley’s report last night fits right in to the picture Attkisson paints of Pelley, 60 Minutes and CBS News.

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