Syria May Have Crossed Obama’s ‘Red Line’ With Use of Chemical Weapons

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Photo: DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel cited new intelligence today, reached with "varying degrees of confidence," that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons "on a small scale" against opposition fighters. According to a letter sent from the White House to Congress, "The United States and the international community have a number of potential responses available, and no option is off the table." President Obama has previously stated that the use of chemical weapons by Assad was a "red line" in the civil war that has killed 70,000 people in the last two years, and could lead to new U.S. involvement, which some lawmakers are already pushing for.

"Precisely because the President takes this issue so seriously, we have an obligation to fully investigate any and all evidence of chemical weapons use within Syria," said the letter to Senators Carl Levin and John McCain of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "That is why we are currently pressing for a comprehensive United Nations investigation that can credibly evaluate the evidence and established what took place." The info, Hagel said, was "reached within the last 24 hours," following a claim earlier this week by Israel that it was "nearly 100 percent certain" chemical weapons had been used against rebel fighters.

"The president of the United States said that if [Mr. Assad] used chemical weapons, it would be a game changer — that it would cross a red line — and it's pretty obvious that red line has been crossed," John McCain said, according to The Wall Street Journal. "Now I hope the administration will consider what we have been recommending now for over two years of this bloodletting and massacre and that is to provide a safe area for opposition to operate; to establish a no-fly zone and provide weapons to the people in the resistance who we trust."

Others are urging caution: "Don't take from this that this is an automatic trigger," an anonymous official told the Washington Post. "We have seen very bad movies before when intelligence is perceived to have driven policy decisions that, in the cold light of day, have been proven wrong." By bad movies, he means Iraq.

"This is serious business," said Hagel, who said his job "is to give the president options." He added, "We need to get all the facts."