Via Mediaite. Translation: If Assad stops gassing people right now, maybe U.S. intelligence could be persuaded to rule the previous gassing episodes “inconclusive” and let bygones be bygones. All this is now is a credibility test. Keep using chemical weapons and you’ll force the White House to act, purely in the interest of not losing face. Put the weapons away and O will eat a little crap by pretending that the Israelis and the British and the French might all have been wrong about what’s happening over there.
Via Jeff Emanuel, here’s how strained the “red line” face-saving has become:
State Dept: We're working to establish a definitive judgment on whether president's red line was crossed. Not there yet, but working on it.
— Hannah Allam (@HannahAllam) April 26, 2013
Mm hmm. Keep working on it, guys. Meanwhile, a tidbit from Chuck Todd:
FYI: Reason Admin went public on PRELIM findings on Syria when they still wanted more evidence: feared Congress would leak news haphazardly
— Chuck Todd (@chucktodd) April 26, 2013
That I do believe. The last thing O wanted to do was bring heat on himself to enforce his “red line” by announcing that Assad might have defied it. But he had no choice. If he and Hagel hadn’t said anything, hawks in Congress who were privy to the intelligence findings would have, and that would have made Obama’s silence look even more weaselly. He’s doing his best here to not do anything about Syria, but there’s only so much perceived weakness he can tolerate politically. So now we’re in a ridiculous spot where he’s forced to double down on his previous ultimatum even though everyone but everyone knows he doesn’t want to and would just as soon keep the news about Syrian WMD hush-hush. So much for “red lines.”
By the way, it’s no coincidence that he said this while sitting next to the king of Jordan. If you don’t know why, you should.
Update: A reminder from National Journal that O’s been backpedaling from his red line for awhile now:
Obama first laid down his red line on chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war in August 2012. “A red line for us is (if) we see a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around, or being utilized. That would change my calculus” on whether a U.S. intervention is merited, the president said…
While the administration did not discuss specifics, outside experts interpreted the reference to movement of chemical weapons as addressing the potential removal from storage and transport of chemical weapons for firing or for proliferation to nonstate actors. However, when the Syrian military was detected in December apparently loading sarin into aerial munitions, the administration indicated that its red line was actually carrying out a chemical attack, not readying for one.