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Could chemical weapons in Syria force Obama's hand?

President Obama last August declared that any use or transport of Syria's chemical weapons would constitute a 'red line' for US policy toward the country. Now Israel, Britain, and France say they have evidence that Syria has crossed that line.


A man with a chemical mask on his head searches for survivors from the rubble of a damaged area, which activists said was a result of an airstrike by the Syrian regime, in the Al Sukkari neighborhood in Aleppo, Syria, in early April.

Haleem Al-Halabi/Reuters/File

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President Obama may soon have to come to grips with what it means to issue a "red line" to a foreign government.

On Tuesday, Israeli military officials said they have evidence and are "nearly 100 percent certain" that forces of Syria's Bashar al-Assad regime have used chemical weapons – a step Mr. Obama said would be a game changer for the United States in its policies toward Syria and the civil war raging there. Last August, Obama declared that any use or even "moving around" of Syria's substantial chemical weapons stockpile would constitute a "red line" for the US – any crossing of which "would change my calculus … change my equation."

With the closest US ally in the region now asserting that chemical weapons have been used, Obama will come under more pressure to demonstrate – possibly through the use of American force – that his "red line" was not a hollow threat, US foreign-policy analysts say.

"If you make a flat statement like that and you don't follow it up, then you undermine your credibility," says Lawrence Korb, a former Pentagon official who is now a national security analyst at the Center for American Progress (CAP) in Washington.


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