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President Obama had drawn a “red line” on the use or transfer of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, calling such actions unacceptable.
Now that the White House has acknowledged that this line very likely has been crossed, the response of Obama and the international community could be critical not just in Syria, but in maintaining the president’s credibility in Iran, where Obama is pushing the regime to abandon its nuclear program.
As intelligence shows chemical weapons have probably been used in Syria, the pressure from the political right for decisive action by the president will only intensify.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has long advocated a no-fly zone to stem the bloodshed in Syria that has left more than 70,000 dead, groused to reporters after being notified by the White House of the intelligence that sarin, a lethal nerve agent, has probably been deployed.
“Everything that the non-interventionists said that would happen in Syria if we intervened has happened,” McCain said.
The shadow of the war in Iraq looms large for Obama. Without uttering the “I” word, the White House was quick Thursday to recall the later-debunked intelligence that showed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction — the central underpinning of George W. Bush’s rationalization for going to war.
An Iraq-style, boots-on-ground intervention is not under serious consideration. Obama aides made clear that the intelligence community’s physiological evidence that indicates Syria’s use of chemical weapons is a bar too low to merit military action, such as implementing a no-fly zone.
“Given the stakes involved, and what we have learned from our own recent experience, intelligence assessments alone are not sufficient — only credible and corroborated facts that provide us with some degree of certainty will guide our decision-making and strengthen our leadership of the international community,” Miguel Rodriguez, Obama’s liaison to Congress, wrote in a letter to lawmakers Thursday.
The White House is pushing the pro-interventionist crowd for patience, but the drumbeat for action is likely to grow louder.