[Published 1 September 2013]
President Obama has tripped over his own red line - leaving the prestige and authority of his Office and America’s reputation in tatters.
The President’s statement last year on the possible use of chemical weapons - supposedly then awash in Syria whilst a civil war had been raging for eighteen months between the Assad regime and a rebel group comprising Syrian civilians, deserting Syrian soldiers and foreign insurgents - was spot on:
“A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.”
No mention was made by President Obama of the need to identify who was utilizing such weapons.
“Utilized” was the operative word - not “utilizer”
That red line appears to have been definitely crossed on 21 August 2013 with a claimed chemical warfare attack using sarin causing more than 1429 confirmed deaths - including 426 children.
USA Today reported on 23 August:
“Syria’s chemical weapons program stretches back decades, allowing the country to amass a supply of nerve and blister agents capable of being mounted on long-range missiles that could reach neighboring countries, according to government and independent analysts.
Its program stretches back to the 1970s or ‘80s — experts disagree on the precise time — as a means of developing a deterrent against Israel’s presumed nuclear capabilities, according to analysts and a Congressional Research Service report.
... Syria has stocks of sarin and VX, which attacks the nervous system, and mustard gas, which burns the skin, according to the Defense Intelligence Agency.
... Syria has generally denied having any chemical weapons, but a spokesman for the Syrian Foreign Ministry, Jihad Maqdisi, said last year that Syria would never use chemical weapons and they were secured.
... Syria is one of a handful of nations that the United States says is pursuing an active chemical weapons program, along with Iran and North Korea.
... Syria has not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, which was ratified by the United States in 1997. It is an international agreement banning the production of chemical weapons and calling for the destruction of stockpiles.”
Syria’s stockpile of any such suspected chemicals cache could have been accessed by the rebel forces during the long running conflict or additional supplies procured by them from other sources.
But did it matter who used chemicals on 21 August? Wasn’t there real urgency now to ensure they could never be used again in this conflict?
Wasn’t the Obama red line crossed because such weapons had in fact been used in Syria on Syrian civilians - no matter which side had launched such attack?
Instead of focusing on the actual use of such chemical weapons - Obama and his Western allies chose to waste valuable time by accusing the Assad regime as the user of those chemical weapons.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced that a resolution would be tabled with the UN Security Council.
Cameron said the resolution would condemn “the chemical weapons attack by Assad” and authorize “necessary measures to protect civilian lives.” He also stressed that any intervention in Syria would have to be “legal, proportionate” and aimed at minimizing further loss of life.
Russia and China indicated they would veto such resolution.
The UN has since been sidelined as the UK and USA have threatened action without any UN Security Council Resolution as legal backing to justify any action they and their Allies might undertake.
Such action has so far proved illusory as both Cameron and Obama hesitated to initiate any action without the consent of their Legislatures. Indeed the British Parliament has already voted against intervening and any Congress decision will be at least seven days away.
Any vote by Congress for unilateral action would be fraught with difficulty and possibly invite retaliation on a massive scale.
Surely consideration should now be given to urgently securing Security Council approval to a resolution that:
1. Deplores the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian civilian population on 21 August 2013
2. Calls on Syria and the rebel forces to surrender control and custody over any chemical weapons in their possession within 72 hours to the United Nations
3. Reserves the right to take such further action as it considers fit in the event of non- compliance with the Security Council resolution.
There is evidence Russia and China would not veto such a Resolution
On 18 June 2013 - The Group of 8 (G8) — consisting of the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan, and Russia — issued a statement in which they:
“condemn in the strongest terms any use of chemical weapons and all human rights violations in Syria.”
The document pointedly refrained from the need to assign blame for their use.
Australia - now occupying the Presidency of the Security Council - could be a driving force in resurrecting this G8 resolution as the basis for the necessary first step in disarming both sides of chemical weapons.
Precious time is being lost as the conflicting parties in Syria continue their war with increasing death and suffering to its hapless civilian population - with the threat of further chemical warfare now being a distinct possibility instead of a theoretical probability.
The UN Security Council must find common ground on this issue between its 5 permanent members - or be condemned for being totally unable to deal with this humanitarian outrage.
Like its predecessor - the League of Nations - the UN could be writing its own death certificate if it fails to rise to this challenge.