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Did the Syrian rebels trap President Obama into military action by using his own words, specifically his definition of use of chemical weapons as a “red line”?

I, for one, am somewhat skeptical of the idea that the Assad regime decided to mount a chemical weapon attack against a Damascus suburb just as a UN chemical weapons investigation team was hunkering down in Damascus.

Assad is no angel, but, like most dictators, his survival skills—particularly, the skill of keeping his outrages below the level that provoke Western military action—seem pretty well honed.

As an alternative version of what might have gone down, imagine some guy, let’s say, Prince B—, tells President Obama:

Yeah, the chemical weapons attack was a false flag operation by the rebels. Whatcha gonna do about it, Mr. Red Line? Pin the attack on the rebels and destroy the Syrian uprising? Do nothing and look like a wuss? Or blame Assad, bury the truth about the attack under a pile of cruise missiles and propaganda, keep the insurrection going, and promote an image of American leadership in the Middle East?

For the rebels and their supporters, foreclosing the possibility of any West-brokered negotiated settlement with Assad might be worth a few hundred innocent lives.

The carefully prepared—written!—U.S. backgrounder laying the PR groundwork for some kind of military action against Syria deployed the “too late” argument, as in “The Syrian government was ‘too late’ in permitting access to the site of the alleged attack”.

I’m no expert on sarin forensics and the difficulties of detecting traces after five days, but I do have a pretty good recollection of the run-up to the Iraq War, when the Bush administration was rather anxious to bring an end to UN inspection process, primarily, I suspect because it had discovered an embarrassing lack of WMDs.

Here’s a nice item of “too late” memorabilia from CNN in September 2002:

Find this article at:

Powell says it’s too late for Iraq to negotiate

WASHINGTON (CNN) –Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday that U.N. weapons inspectors must be allowed to go “anywhere, anytime” if they returned to Iraq — rejecting that country’s conditional offer to allow inspections to resume.

“If they have no weapons, what are they hiding?” Powell said on CNN’s “Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer.”

“They find all kinds of excuses, a thousand excuses — ‘There are spies on this team. We don’t want this. When are sanctions going to be relieved and removed?’ The issue is Iraqi noncompliance, and we should not allow them to move us off that issue.”

At a news conference Saturday, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said his nation would allow inspectors to return only if the United States doesn’t bring military action and if U.N. sanctions are lifted.

“If there is a solution which maintains Iraq’s sovereignty, dignity and legitimate rights and prevents aggression, we are ready,” Aziz said.

President Bush brought his case against Iraq to the U.N. General Assembly last week, challenging the international organization to enforce resolutions seeking to disarm the Saddam Hussein regime.

Aziz denied Iraq was harboring weapons of mass destruction and accused Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair of exaggerating the threat Iraq poses to the region.

Powell said it was too late for Iraq to negotiate the terms for the return of international weapons inspectors.

He said he was working with members of the U.N. Security Council to try to hammer out a resolution that lays out Iraq’s violations of U.N. resolutions, what the country must do to meet the U.N. conditions and what the international community will do if it does not respond.

“The time for Iraq to respond was years ago,” Powell said. “They now have an opportunity to respond now with this new resolution. But what we cannot allow to have happen is to get into this haggling and listening to the duplicitous comments that are constantly coming out of Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.”

“Enough is enough,” said Bush, who argued that Saddam has defied the United Nations 16 times since the Persian Gulf War. “The United Nations will either be able to function as a peacekeeping body as we head into the 21st century, or it will be irrelevant, and that’s what we are about to find out.”

Bush also said if the world body did not act, he was prepared to take matters into his own hands.

“Make no mistake about it,” Bush said. “If we have to deal with the problem, we’ll deal with it.”

(Republished from China Matters by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Assad, Colin Powell, Iraq, Syria, UN inspectors 
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