Was the Use of Chemical Weapons a Red Line?

Aug. 21, 2013 was not the first time that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against its own people. It had previously used them 13 times in different parts of Syria. Prior to that, U.S. President Barack Obama had said that the use of chemical weapons in Syria is a “red line” and that if Assad crossed it, the rules of the game would change and America would punish him.

After these weapons were used for the first time, chemical warfare specialists among the Free Syrian Army fighters conducted field investigations into the incident. They presented expert reports to various international parties and organizations and transported the bodies of a man and woman killed by chemical weapons to Turkey. There, international experts examined the bodies. At the time, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, with all composure, that what had happened was “unacceptable.”*

But Assad was apparently eager to respond to the eminent secretary by crossing Obama’s red line again on the dawn of Aug. 21, 2013. More than 1,400 citizens were killed, including many hundreds of children. This constituted a blatant war crime and a crime against humanity, not only because internationally banned weapons were used, but also because of the way in which they were used: The attack was planned so that most of the causalities would be civilian. It began with an aerial bombing that caused people to leave their homes and go to air-raid shelters. Then, chemical weapons were used, suffocating them inside the shelters, where they were crammed in by the thousands. Then, the targeted locations were subjected to aerial and artillery bombardment to accelerate the dissipation of the Sarin gas, which only lingers in the air for a few hours. This precise method of killing not only confirms the regime’s criminal intent, but also demonstrates its desire to see civilians bear the most casualties.

We all know how Americans dealt with the subject. In a slip of the tongue, the secretary of state said that his country would not launch the anticipated military strike on the Assad regime, if the latter agrees to surrender its chemical weapons. The Russians agreed on behalf of Assad. The Friends of Syria Group could do nothing other than allow the regime free rein, and the regime could only continue conducting it massacres using innocent, internationally permitted weapons, like thermobaric bombs, cluster bombs, nail bombs, explosive barrels, ballistic missiles, artillery shells, laser-guided tank shells and thermal weapons.

What is the difference between the expression “unacceptable,” which Kerry used after the first chemical attacks, and the expression “red line,” which Obama used before any chemical attack had occurred? I believe that the expression “unacceptable” was intended to refer to the use of these chemical weapons, whereas the “red line” was intended to mean Assad’s refusal to surrender them to Israel. Since the hero of the resistance fears “red lines,” he gave in to Washington’s demand and with remarkable speed, surrendered the weapons that he had used “unacceptably.” Thus, the two sides of the international conflict were able to avoid the American military strike that was supposed to have taken place, if Assad had refused Israel’s demand for chemical disarmament, and the regime had been allowed to launch any number of attacks it wanted on its people because the continuation of the Syrian conflict allows America to settle regional and international scores using the regime’s weapons!

The “unacceptable” use of chemical weapons represented a moment of tension that brought the regime close to the “red line” and compelled it to quickly meet Washington’s demand. After dropping a red line that it had associated with Israeli security, Washington reverted to the calm and cold-blooded behavior, to which it is accustomed in its management of the Syrian crisis. Since then, it seems that Obama has once again been sitting in front of television screens, taking enjoyment in what has become acceptable in the war waged by a regime that is doing everything possible to please him with scenes of death scenes created by criminals, who themselves derive great enjoyment from killing their own people in cold blood!

*Editor’s note: While Kerry has used the term “unacceptable” to describe the use of
 chemical weapons in Syria following August 2013, we can’t source him using it at the time when the author refers.

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