Clarifying his administration’s "red line" policy, Barack Obama told reporters Tuesday that if Syria used chemical weapons against its citizens, it would represent a "game-changer not simply for the United States, but for the international community."
The tweaked wording is potentially important because it switches the emphasis from a red line that triggers U.S. action to a red line that triggers international action — something a U.S. president is less capable of implementing unilaterally.
The point was punctuated twice during the White House press conference. Here’s Obama (our emphasis added):
When I said the use of chemical weapons would be a game-changer, that wasn’t a position unique to the United States, and it shouldn’t have been a surprise…. The use of chemical weapons would be a game changer. Not simply for the United States, but for the international community. And the reason for that is we have established international law and international norms that say when you use these kinds of weapons you have the potential of killing massive numbers of people in the most inhumane way possible and the proliferation risks are so significant that we don’t want the genie out of the bottle.
To some observers, these comments suggested that a U.S. response was dependent on a willingness of the international community to respond. Per Roll Call Senior Editor David Drucker:
So, apparently .@barackobama‘s red line on Syria chem weaps was: If we know Assad used them & our partners joined us in response.
— David M. Drucker (@DavidMDrucker) April 30, 2013
The president is of course correct that other countries have drawn red lines when it comes to Syria’s use of chemical weapons. But that doesn’t guarantee a unified response. For instance: Just this morning Iran said it views the use of chemical weapons as a "red line." Russia too has directly warned Syria not to use chemical weapons. But given the two countries’ support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (monetarily and militarily) it’s almost inconceivable to imagine the three countries working together even with the presentation of clear proof that Assad used chemical weapons.
So what does the president even mean by "game-changer"?
"By game-changer I mean that we would have to rethink the range of options that are available to us," he said on Tuesday. "Obviously there are options to me that are on the shelf right now that we have not deployed." Take of that what you will.
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C.| The Cable |
Blake Hounshell is managing editor at Foreign Policy, having formerly been Web editor. Hounshell oversees ForeignPolicy.com and has commissioned and edited numerous cover stories for the print magazine, including National Magazine Award finalist "Why Do They Hate Us?" by Mona Eltahawy. He also edits The Cable, FP's first foray into daily original reporting, and was editor of Colum Lynch's Turtle Bay, which in 2011 won a National Magazine award for best reporting in a digital format.
Blake joined Foreign Policy in 2006 after living in Cairo, where he studied Arabic, missed his Steelers finally win one for the thumb, and worked for the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies. Blake was a 2011 finalist for the Livingston Awards prize for young journalists for his reporting on the Arab uprisings, and his Twitter feed was named one of Time magazine's "140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2011." Under his leadership, in 2008, Passport, FP's flagship blog, won Media Industry Newsletter's "Best of the Web" award in the blog category. Along with Elizabeth Dickinson, he edited Southern Tiger: Chile's Fight for a Democratic and Prosperous Future, the memoirs of former Chilean president Ricardo Lagos, published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2012.
A graduate of Yale University, Blake speaks mangled Arabic and French, is an avid runner, and lives in Washington with his wife, musician Sandy Choi, and their toddler, David. Follow him on Twitter @blakehounshell.| Passport |