Someone had to take the fall for President Barack Obama’s thoughtlessly drawing a “red line” threatening serious consequences if Syria used chemical weapons. It turns out that it is the president himself.
Senior officials explained to the New York Times that last August, the president’s advisers had no idea he was going to boldly issue a red-line warning. The president was “unscripted,” according to one official. In this perilously untelepromptered state, he accidentally made a statement that sounded like it was fraught with foreboding.
“We have been very clear to the Assad regime,” the president said, “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.” The phrase “red line” is a term of art usually denoting the trigger for the use of force.
We are now told by the officials that the red line was merely a gaffe, although evidently a serial gaffe. In March, Vice President Joe Biden said, “We’ve set a clear red line against the use [or] the transfer of those weapons.” A couple of weeks later, the president drew the red line again. “We will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons,” he said, adding, “The world is watching; we will hold you accountable.”