An unusually damning Kinselyan gaffe, tucked away by Politico inside a story about how circumstances in Syria have supposedly forced Obama’s hand on intervention or something. You would think, in light of the endless criticism of Bush over Iraq, government officials would studiously avoid the impression that they’re using WMD claims as a pretext for intervening in a Middle Eastern country. But here we are:
“The decision was ultimately driven by the discovery Assad used [chemical weapons] but there were a number of other factors in place that were also important,” conceded an administration official with direct knowledge of the deliberations.
“Would we have made [the determination Assad had breached the red line] even if we didn’t have the evidence? Probably.”
“Probably.” And he’s right, which is what makes this a Kinsleyan gaffe. O’s under pressure to move quickly now because Assad and Hezbollah are starting to pulverize the rebels, not because they’re threatening to gas people en masse. Even yesterday’s White House statement announcing that the “red line” had been crossed acknowledged that the total number of deaths from chemical weapons attacks in Syria are a tiny percentage of the total death toll over the past two years. We’re intervening because O’s decided, apparently, that American prestige can’t tolerate the prospect of Assad winning the war after the president of the United States declared that he must go. Whether the region would be more or less stable if Assad survives and whether we’re getting in bed with a group of Sunni fanatics who’ll come back to haunt us are important, but ultimately secondary, considerations.
The reason they’re stressing the WMD “red line,” and the reason why the anonymous official quoted by Politico blithely notes that they would have stressed it even if they didn’t have hard evidence to back it up, is because it’s one of the few elements of the conflict that actually does move American public opinion. See the links in yesterday’s post for numbers on that. If you tell the electorate we need to dive into this clusterfark as a matter of U.S. prestige or because the Saudi-backed Sunni lunatics are ever so slightly preferable to the Iran-backed Shiite lunatics, you won’t see the numbers move much. Tell them that the WMD genie is out of the bottle, though, and they pause. That’s what the “red line” is ultimately about. Sarin is special. We have to act.
Here’s a question that cuts to the heart of the “logic” of O’s decision:
It won’t. Arguably, in fact, it’ll end up giving Assad reasons to use chemical weapons that he didn’t have before. Either he’ll cite the rebels’ new armaments as a pretext to start gassing people, to defy the United States, or the rebels will turn the tide and leave Assad in straits so desperate that he decides he has nothing left to lose by using sarin on a wide scale. Or maybe the rebels will overrun his stockpiles and they’ll start using sarin on the Shiites instead, which would leave the White House with one of the all-time great foreign-policy backfires. The point to take away here is that none of his has much to do with the “responsibility to protect” doctrine that new UN ambassador Samantha Power is so fond of (way, way too late for that, and more arms for jihadis will only up the death toll) or with somehow strategically tying Assad’s hands so that he can’t use WMD again going forward. It’s really just retaliation. We told him not to use gas, he embarrassed us by doing it anyway, and now he’s embarrassing us again by winning a war after we told him he had to go. So now we’re going to arm the terrorists on the other side and let them bleed him as much as possible, hopefully to the point that he decides he’s had enough and will agree to some ultimately unsustainable partition of the country into Sunni and Alawaite mini-states. Full speed ahead.