Two days after former President Bill Clinton warned President Obama that he’d look like a “total wuss” if he based his foreign policy decisions on polls, the White House declared that red line had been crossed on the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons in Syria.
“Our intelligence community now has a high confidence assessment that chemical weapons have been used on a small scale by the Assad regime in Syria,” Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said in a statement.
“The President has said that the use of chemical weapons would change his calculus, and it has. Our decision making has already been guided by the April intelligence assessment and by the regime’s escalation of horrific violence against its citizens.”
However, on a subsequent call with reporters, Rhodes was vague about what action might be taken and even said “we believe Bashar Assad can be a part of the future of Syria” — hoping for a negotiated political settlement despite his use of sarin on his people.
Clinton said at the McCain Institute for International Leadership in Manhattan on Tuesday night that he didn’t “mean that a leader should go out of his way or her way to do the unpopular thing,” according to Politico, who reported on the closed-press event. “I simply mean when people are telling you ‘no’ in these situations, very often what they’re doing is flashing a giant yellow light and saying, ‘For God’s sakes, be careful, tell us what you’re doing, think this through, be careful.”
“The president makes a decision about the implementation of national security options based on our national security interests, not on, you know, what might satisfy critics at any given moment about a policy,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney shot back at the daily briefing today.
Rhodes said “the intelligence community estimates that 100 to 150 people have died from detected chemical weapons attacks in Syria to date; however, casualty data is likely incomplete.”
On the call with reporters, Rhodes said the administration has “already taken action increased support and types of support” to the Syrian political and military opposition.
“We’re looking at a wide range of types of support we provide,” he said. “I’m not going to be able to detail every type of support we’re providing.”
When asked why the White House seemed to lack urgency on the issue, Rhodes said “there is an urgency to the situation — there has been an urgency to the situation for two years.”
The United Nations reported today that the death toll in Syria is over 92,000.
Rhodes said Assad ally Russia had been “briefed” on the findings, and said the White House would continue to consult with the Kremlin, including at the upcoming G8 summit.
“The use of chemical weapons violates international norms and crosses clear red lines that have existed within the international community for decades. We believe that the Assad regime maintains control of these weapons,” Rhodes said. “We have no reliable, corroborated reporting to indicate that the opposition in Syria has acquired or used chemical weapons.”
“The United States and the international community have a number of other legal, financial, diplomatic, and military responses available. We are prepared for all contingencies, and we will make decisions on our own timeline. Any future action we take will be consistent with our national interest, and must advance our objectives, which include achieving a negotiated political settlement to establish an authority that can provide basic stability and administer state institutions; protecting the rights of all Syrians; securing unconventional and advanced conventional weapons; and countering terrorist activity.”
The White House announcement comes as Syrian government forces are believed to be preparing for a major assault on the city of Aleppo.