NEW YORK – The Obama administration current claim that the Assad regime in Syria is the culprit in chemical gas attacks that may demand a U.S. military response has the feeling of déjà vu.
Last spring, President Obama made similar threats, only to back down from U.S. military action against the Assad regime after credible evidence produced by international authorities indicated the rebel forces attacking the Assad regime were responsible.
In a March 21 televised address to the people of Israel during his visit to the country, Obama pressed his claim that Assad was using poisonous chemical weapons against Syrian civilians in the war against rebel forces.
That’s why every country that values justice should call Hezbollah what it truly is – a terrorist organization. (Applause.) Because the world cannot tolerate an organization that murders innocent civilians, stockpiles rockets to shoot at cities, and supports the massacre of men and women and children in Syria right now. (Applause.)
The fact that Hezbollah’s ally – the Assad regime – has stockpiles of chemical weapons only heightens the urgency. We will continue to cooperate closely to guard against that danger. I’ve made it clear to Bashar al-Assad and all who follow his orders: We will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people, or the transfer of those weapons to terrorists. The world is watching; we will hold you accountable. (Applause.)
The Syrian people have the right to be freed from the grip of a dictator who would rather kill his own people than relinquish power. (Applause.) Assad must go so that Syria’s future can begin. Because true stability in Syria depends upon establishing a government that is responsible to its people – one that protects all communities within its borders, while making peace with countries beyond them.
Clearly, Obama had taken a position against the Assad regime. The question remained whether his administration’s charge that Assad carried out poison gas attacks could stand the test of international scrutiny.
Then, as now, Obama had the support of Britain and France in attacking the Assad regime over the use of poison gas.
Le Monde in Paris reported May 27 that two reporters who spent two months clandestinely in the Damascus area alongside Syrian rebels witnessed chemical gas attacks launched by the Assad regime.
“In the tangled web of the Jobar front, where enemy lines are so close that the fighters exchange insults as often as they kill each other, gas attacks occurred on a regular basis in April,” Le Monde reported.
“The gas was not diffused over a broad swath of territory but used occasionally in specific locations by government forces to attack the areas of toughest fighting with the encroaching opposition rebels. This sector is the place where Free Syrian Army groups have penetrated most deeply into Damascus. A merciless war is being waged here.”
Then, as now, Assad regime officials pushed back, denying Syrian government forces had used chemical weapons against the rebels, while demanding the White House and Britain produce evidence.
In May, Israel, agreeing with the U.S., Britain and France that the Assad regime had used chemical weapons, launched a series of limited missile and warplane strikes on Syria, supposedly aimed at preventing the transfer of Iranian-made missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
U.N. investigator contradicts Obama
On May 6, the BBC reported that Carla Del Ponte, a leading member of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria, established by the U.N. in August 2011, told Swiss TV the available evidence pointed to the Syrian rebels launching gas attacks, although the possibility government forces may also have used chemical weapons could not be ruled out.
The BBC also reported Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said he was deeply concerned by “signs that world public opinion is being prepared for possible military intervention” in Syria.
On the question of whether chemical weapons had been used, Lukashevich called for an “end to the politicization of this issue” and to the “whipping up of an anti-Syrian atmosphere.”
The report of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria delivered to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva on June 4 found evidence of murder, torture, rape, forcible displacement or other inhumane acts having been committed both by government forces and by the rebels.
The commission concluded: “There are reasonable grounds to believe that chemical agents have been used as weapons. The precise agents, delivery systems or perpetrators could not be identified.”
In a White House press conference Aug. 20, 2012, President Obama said, “I have indicated repeatedly that President al-Assad has lost legitimacy, that he needs to step down.”
Obama’s “red line”
Obama went on to articulate what has become his controversial “red-line” standard: “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 moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”
In a CNN interview last week, Obama cautioned against unilateral U.S. military action when asked if the U.S. needed to do more to stop the violence in Syria.
Obama’s response was to defer to a renewed U.N. investigation.
“Well, we are right now gathering information about this particular event, but I can say that unlike some of the evidence that we were trying to get earlier that led to a U.N. investigator going into Syria, what we’ve seen indicates that this is clearly a big event of grave concern,” Obama explained to CNN.
“And, you know, we are already in communications with the entire international community. We’re moving through the U.N. to try to prompt better action from them. And we’ve called on the Syrian government to allow an investigation of the site, because U.N. inspectors are on the ground right now.”
With China and Russia having permanent seats and vetoes on the U.N. Security Council, it is doubtful the Obama administration could get a U.N. resolution calling for military action against the Assad regime, especially because the evidence blaming the Assad regime for the recent chemical gas attacks has been questioned internationally.
WND has reported Arabic-language sources indicating the rebels, not the Assad government, are responsible for the most recent chemical gas attack in Syria.
Meanwhile, Foreign Policy magazine reported Wednesday that U.S. eavesdropping provided evidence of a chemical attack.
The magazine said an official at the Syrian Ministry of Defense exchanged panicked phone calls with the leader of a chemical weapons unit, demanding answers for a nerve agent strike that killed more than 1,000 people.
The magazine said in a statement that the conversations were overheard by U.S. intelligence services, which is the major reason why American officials now say they’re certain that the attacks were the work of the Assad regime.