|President Obama on the phone and file picture of a Syrian chemical attack victim|
U.S. President Barack Obama has reported the Syrian president to his backer in the Kremlin for cheating and dabbling with chemical weapons.
That’s how I read this official White House “readout” of President Obama’s call with Russian President Vladimir Putin:
President Obama spoke by phone today [Monday] with President Putin of Russia to convey his condolences on the tragic hospital fire outside of Moscow that killed dozens last week, and to reiterate his appreciation for the close cooperation that the United States has received from Russia on the Boston marathon attack. The two Leaders discussed cooperation on counter-terrorism and security issues going forward, including with respect to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. President Obama and President Putin reviewed the situation in Syria, with President Obama underscoring concern over Syrian chemical weapons. The Presidents agreed to stay in close consultation and instructed Secretary [John] Kerry and Foreign Minister [Sergei] Lavrov to continue discussions on Syria. Finally, both Presidents noted that they look forward to meeting in person in June at the time of the G-8 meeting in Northern Ireland and again in September for a bilateral Summit in Russia.
“Game Over” is a message in video games signaling that the game has ended, often due to a negative outcome.
“It’s Game Over in Syria,” Lebanese journalist, author and political analyst Samir Atallah writes today for the leading Saudi daily Asharq Alawsat.
In his words, paraphrased from Arabic:
While Barack Obama looks high and low for the red line in Syria, the Arab Mashriq seems about to fall into the netherworld.
Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon are going to rack and ruin as viable civil states. There was never a winner in wars fought by men with no colors other than the inferno colors.
Jabhat al-Nusra has set up its republic, its laws, its courts, its economy and its bakeries in all the localities it captured in and near Aleppo.
The regime in turn is trying to carve up a separate republic for itself in Homs.
For their part, the “civilians” in Istanbul keep pining for news from Ahmet Davutoglu, the learned politician who knew everything except all that has happened.
Each and every side in the conflict crossed the entire the red lines the White House preacher is hunting for.
They are all losers. And the Syria we knew is the biggest loser of them all.
What did Russia gain from Jabhat al-Nusra spreading in the north all the way to Damascus?
What did Iran benefit from most of Syria falling in the Takfiris’ hands?
What did America reap from the war, which her ambassador in Damascus started by visiting Hama, only to end up reading false reports about the whereabouts of Jihad Makdissi?
Originally, the prevailing view was the regime did not know what it had on its hand.
No one who had Syrian blood on his hands knew anything about the pothole he was jumping into. That’s why there are hands drenched in blood but no life-saving hands.
The world fought the war outwith the Security Council.
The Arabs fought it outwith their League.
The regime fought it from the start outwith any acceptable or negotiable solution.
Clock chimes are ringing out Syria’s end.
For a year now, the red line has been without benchmark or terms of reference.
The first red line was the Russian-Chinese veto.
The second red line came in Geneva with ambiguous Action Group resolutions akin to an open invitation to keep up the ruination.
The third red line considered the use of chemical weapons a game-changer – as if suggesting all other lethal and destructive weapons are green lines in the race to obliterate Syria as a nation-state.
In the end, Russia will evacuate its citizens, America will issue a travel warning to its citizens, and Iran will pull out its Revolutionary Guards, leaving Syria in shreds.
“Game Over” Iraq’s Mohammed al-Douri told the United Nations in announcing the [Saddam] regime’s fall.
It’s “Game Over” in Syria.
I wrote in my post last week, “I doubt Obama would ever lift a finger against Assad.”
For those who wish to continue reading, here is how the dithering continued at yesterday’s press briefing by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney:
Q. Jay, on Syria, some questions are being raised about whether the Syrians actually used sarin on their people. What confidence does the United States have in this evidence? And can you characterize what exactly the evidence is in any way and what standards you’re trying to meet in terms of establishing it?
CARNEY: We have established with varying degrees of confidence that chemical weapons were used in limited fashion in Syria and the agent is sarin, as we have said. We have some physiological tests that are part of that collection of evidence. But there is much more to be done to verify conclusively that the red line that the President has talked about has been crossed.
And it’s very important that we take the information that’s been gathered thus far and build upon it, because an assessment of varying degrees of confidence is not sufficient upon which to base a policy reaction, as we’ve said and as the President said in the Oval Office on Friday.
So our work continues. We have a team -- or the United Nations has a team ready to deploy to Syria within 24 to 48 hours if Assad allows that team in and follows through on his stated commitment and interest in having this matter investigated. And we are working with the French and the British and other allies and partners to gather more evidence. Chain of custody is an important issue -- establishing not just that there was an incident of chemical weapons used, but how the exposure occurred, under what circumstances, who specifically was responsible, and again, the chain of custody, how the incident itself was brought about.
Q. You say physiological. Can you be any more specific about what that evidence is and who is holding it?
CARNEY: Physiological is tangible evidence. And beyond that, I’m not going to be specific about it or methods and sources in terms of gathering evidence. It is a piece in the puzzle that needs to be put together to establish the kind of verifiable, reviewable evidence that can be corroborated that we need to establish as we make decisions about policy.
Q Jay, on Syria, where exactly is that red line?
CARNEY: The President has made clear, as he did again Friday, that the use of chemical weapons or the transfer of chemical weapons to terrorist groups would cross a red line.
What we have made clear, and we can go over it again, is that we have established with varying degrees of confidence that there have been incidents of chemical weapons used, sarin, in particular, in a limited fashion in Syria. We are now working to build upon that evidence to increase the amount of evidence to find specifically what happened, what occurred, who was responsible and build that case, if you will.
Q. So is it the use of any amount of chemical weapons?
CARNEY: There’s not a gradation here that I can engage in. I can tell you that there have been, as we have assessed with varying degrees of confidence, incidents of the use of chemical weapons in a limited fashion. But the issue here is chain of custody. It is going on more than simply intelligence assessments. I think our history provides us with examples of why we need to be especially assiduous when it comes to evaluating and gathering evidence in matters related to these kinds of issues. And that's what we're doing.
Q. But I'm trying to understand -- because I heard the President say "systematic use" on Friday -- so is it any amount? Is it a small amount? Does it have to be a large amount to cross the red line?
CARNEY: I think that the issue here is the use by, we believe, the regime -- because we are highly skeptical of any accusations that the opposition may have used chemical weapons -- the use by the regime of chemical weapons against the Syrian people or the transfer by the regime of some of its chemical weapons stockpile to terrorists --
Q. Any amount -- even a limited amount?
CARNEY: I don't have an amount to give you. Obviously, the nature of chemical weapons varies depending on the agent. The use of chemical weapons can depend on the instance and the chain of custody. So that's what we're investigating now. That's what we're calling on Assad to allow the United Nations to investigate.
So this is a very serious matter. The President made clear this was a very serious matter. And it is because that it is so serious that it is essential to establish a broader process of verification that will allow us then to assess whether that red line has been crossed and what the policy response will be.
Q. And on chain of custody, does it have to be something that is directed by Assad and his --
CARNEY: We have said the use by the regime of chemical weapons would be President Assad's responsibility. And we believe and have assessed that the chemical weapon stockpiles in Syria are under the control -- continue to be under the control of the Syrian regime, led by Bashar al-Assad.
Again, I don't want to speculate on the incidents that we have assessed with varying degrees of confidence have occurred or may have occurred. We are further investigating all credible information about possible use of chemical weapons in Syria and call on Assad to comply with his own request for an investigation of chemical weapons use in Syria by allowing that team in to investigate. It's ready to go.
Q. And just one more. How long do you think this process takes? Are we talking like --
CARNEY: I don't think it's possible to say necessarily, because building -- the building blocks that create the evidence necessary to make these kinds of assessment depend on what we're able to gather and it's a complex process. Establishing the use of chemical weapons and the incidents involved and the chain of custody is not easy business, but it is essential business.
Again, if you're as serious as the President is about this kind of transgression, if it were to occur, you need to be sure of your facts and you need to have facts that can be corroborated and that can be reviewed and that are airtight.
Q. So it could be weeks, it could be months. It could be impossible --
CARNEY: I don't have a timetable for you. I would not give you a timetable.
Q Jay, I wanted to follow on Syria, Jon’s questions about the timeline and whatnot. Understanding, as you say, that the evidence has to be airtight -- because nobody should suggest that the administration rushed through this -- if it takes months and months to verify this or maybe a year, doesn’t that keep the door wide open for Assad to use chemical weapons? I mean, when the President was in the briefing room here some months ago he made it seem like there will be action taken if this line is crossed. If it drags on for months and months, it seems like the door could be open for Assad to do this again.
CARNEY: Well, I certainly appreciate the question and I understand it. What I won't do is speculate about how much time might be required to gather the evidence necessary to be able to assess clearly in a way that can be corroborated and reviewed whether or not this red line has been crossed.
I think all Americans would hope and expect that on a matter of this seriousness that we would be very careful in that process and would insist upon gathering all the facts, and not rushing to take action in a policy sense in reaction to assessments that are very important but are based on incomplete information.
So we need to build upon the excellent work that's been done thus far. We call upon Assad to allow the inspection team from the United Nations to conduct the investigation that Assad himself asked for. But we are not relying on the United Nations alone; we are working with our partners and allies as well as the Syrian opposition, very importantly, to gather more facts and evidence because this matter is so serious.
Q. I appreciate that. Going back to Syria quickly. The Free Syrian Army over this weekend said that Israeli Air Force jets flew over Assad’s palace and that they bombed a chemical weapons site near Damascus this weekend. Do you have any more information about that and what the message is to Israel?
CARNEY: I don’t have any information on that.
Q. And then, finally, if I can quickly, as we speak about Syria, can you explain -- there’s some sense that the White House is perhaps out over its skis, to use a colloquial phrase, in terms of the issue on Syria; that the language that was used before to describe this red line as this being a game-changer is now the policy doesn’t meet that place, that the words perhaps got a little bit ahead of policy right now. If the White House wasn’t 100 percent sure when they put out the information to the Hill late last week, why right now? Why not wait to have said something to -- created this new, complex situation?
CARNEY: Well, I think, as you know, the President made clear the fact that there was a red line for the United States long before this report came out because he was making clear to President Assad how seriously we would view the use or transfer of Syria’s chemical weapons. And he made that clear again on Friday when asked about this in his meeting with the King of Jordan. And that is why we have to be so thorough in our review of and collection of evidence to prove that chemical weapons have been used. And I think the American people would expect nothing less.
That’s why we have made clear that while there is some evidence that leads to an assessment of varying degrees of confidence that chemical weapons have been used in a limited way in Syria, more evidence needs to be gathered to build upon the work that’s been done thus far, and that includes working with allies and partners who care deeply about this issue and have their own assessments that have been made. It includes working, very importantly, with the Syrian opposition, and it includes urging President Assad to allow the United Nations team into Syria.
Q. So given the challenge that’s posed by the last part of your answer, which is Assad’s willingness to allow inspectors in there, if he doesn’t allow inspectors in, as appears increasingly to be the case given that hasn’t happened to this point, can the White House or can this administration ever reach a point of certitude to know that chemical weapons are being used, to mandate this reaction that the President has discussed, a game-changer?
CARNEY: I think that it is certainly easier if you were to have a team on the ground allowed entry by the Assad regime, but we are not waiting for that process. We are moving forward, as we have already, to collect information and gather evidence. We are relying and working with the Syrian opposition, as well as our allies and partners in that effort. And that effort will continue.
But there is no question that this not easy business and it needs to be thorough, and we need to establish the highest possible level of confidence in the assessments that we make. And that's why we’re assembling the facts in the way that we are.
Q. Thank you, Jay.