President Obama's "red line" statement last year on Syria has come to haunt him. On Wednesday, as reports of a horrific chemical attack by the Syrian army that killed hundreds on the outskirts of Damascus poured in, the US and global media screamed that Syria may have finally crossed the "red line." However, the U.S. avoidance became evident, as it indicated reluctance to take direct action that could embroil America in an open-ended Syrian civil war.
On Wednesday, opposition groups claimed that rockets with toxic agents were launched by the Syrian army in its attack on the Ghouta region outside Damascus. The rebels have put the death toll at 1,300. However, the Syrian army termed the accusation of a chemical attack as fabricated.
News of the massacre sparked debate in Washington putting pressure on the US Administration to intervene in the civil war. However, General Martin Dempsey, a top U.S. military officer is reported to have pushed aside calls for air strikes on Syrian army positions saying that it could embroil America in an open-ended war.
Obama in a Fix
The alleged chemical attack has put the Obama administration in a tight spot.
Addressing the media in Aug 2012, President Obama had termed the use of chemical and biological weapons in the Syrian civil war as a "critical" point.
"That's an issue that doesn't just concern Syria; it concerns our close allies in the region, including Israel. It concerns us. We cannot have a situation where chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people."
"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."
This "red line" was a point which he said was "communicated in no uncertain terms with every player in the region."
Observers had interpreted those remarks as a sign that Obama would contemplate direct military action against Syrian government forces in case they used chemical weapons.
In June after it was confirmed that the Syrian army had used chemical arms, in attacks that killed up to 150 people, Washington, promised to significantly toughen its stance and said it would provide military support to rebels for the first time. It however refused to specify the nature of assistance terming it the information as classified.
Obama's opponents accuse him of damaging his own credibility by refusing to back up infringed red lines with overt military action.
This latest attack represents another Middle Eastern headache for the Obama Administration as it struggles to frame a coherent response to a coup in Egypt.
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