“The body of information used to make this intelligence assessment includes reporting regarding Syrian officials planning and executing regime chemical weapons attacks; reporting that includes descriptions of the time, location, and means of attack; and descriptions of physiological symptoms that are consistent with exposure to a chemical weapons agent,” Rhodes said.
In his earlier warning to Syria, Obama had said this: “We have been very clear to the Assad regime but also to other players on the ground that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons being moved around or utilized. There would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movements on the chemical weapons or use, that would change my calculations significantly.”
“A whole bunch of chemical weapons” and “change my calculations significantly” are phrases designed for maximum flexibility.
But Obama has been under increasing pressure to do more about the situation in Syria, which has seen, according to the latest UN estimate, at least 93,000 people killed – most of them civilians – and thousands more turned into refugees trying to escape the fighting.
In recent weeks, Britain, France, Israel, and the United Nations all have asserted that Assad regime forces had used chemical weapons. Domestic political pressure has been mounting as well.
“It is long past time to bring the Assad regime’s bloodshed in Syria to an end,” Buck Brendan, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, said in a statement Thursday. “As President Obama examines his options, it is our hope he will properly consult with Congress before taking any action.”
In a joint statement, Senators John McCain (R) of Arizona and Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina, who are pushing for the US and its allies to establish a no-fly zone in Syria, said, “We cannot afford to delay any longer.”