Slatest PM: Where Is Obama's Real Red Line for Syria?

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
April 25 2013 4:35 PM

Slatest PM: Where Is Obama's Real Red Line for Syria?

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Members of the Al-Ezz bin Abdul Salam brigade take part in a training session at an undisclosed location near the al-Turkman mountains, in Syria's northern Latakia province

Photo by Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

U.S. Suggests Syria Used Chemical Weapons: Washington Post: "The Obama administration said Thursday that the Syrian government has likely used chemical weapons on a small scale against rebel forces, but it stopped short of threatening military action against President Bashar al-Assad. In a letter to a key senator, the White House said U.S. intelligence agencies 'assess with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin.' The new findings, which the White House said were reached in the last 24 hours, echo assertions made last week by Britain and France that there is evidence of the small-scale use of chemical weapons on several occasions in recent months. Israeli military officials said Tuesday that their research has also turned up evidence that forces loyal to Assad have used the weapons against rebel fighters."

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Fact Finding or Buying Time?: Wall Street Journal: "However, officials said there are still questions about evidence and that the assessment doesn't point to imminent U.S. action. ... [A] senior U.S. defense official said the new assessment was 'not an automatic trigger' for military action. ...  Administration officials are still working on the evidence, Mr. Hagel said. 'This is serious business,' Mr. Hagel told reporters in Abu Dhabi after a week of talks with the leaders in the region. 'We need all the facts.' The wording of the White House letter to lawmakers reflects what officials described as lingering differences of opinion among U.S. intelligence agencies about the degree of confidence they have in the evidence available."

Rebels Call For Action: Associated Press: "Syria's main Western-backed opposition is calling on the international community to act 'urgently and decisively' on President Barack Obama's public assertions that Syria's use of chemical weapons would cross a 'red line.' ... A coalition statement called on the world community to prove to the Syrian regime that the statements about crossing a red line were not just 'empty words.' It said failure to act will be seen by the regime as a green light to use chemical weapons on a larger scale in the future."

The Real Red Line?: Foreign Policy:"Obama first said in August: '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.' Many have interpreted this line to mean that if Assad moved or used chemical weapons, Obama would act. ...  But it seems ... that the key words in Obama's August statement were 'a whole bunch.' And if you read between the lines of the White House's letter to several senators today, that still seems to be the real red line, assuming it actually exists, because the letter stresses that the purported use in question was, or may have been, 'on a small scale.'"

A Tough Sell: New York Times: "As Islamists increasingly fill the ranks of Syrian rebels, President Bashar al-Assad is waging an energized campaign to persuade the United States that it is on the wrong side of the civil war. Some government supporters and officials believe they are already coaxing — or at least frightening — the West into holding back stronger support for the opposition. Confident they can sell their message, government officials have eased their reluctance to allow foreign reporters into Syria, paraded prisoners they described as extremist fighters and relied unofficially on a Syrian-American businessman to help tap into American fears of groups like Al Qaeda."

Happy Thursday and welcome back to the Slatest PM, follow your afternoon host on Twitter at @JoshVoorhees and the whole team at @slatest.

The Decision to Mirandize: Wall Street Journal: "A federal judge made the call to advise the Boston bombing suspect of his Miranda rights, even though investigators apparently still wanted to question him further under a public-safety exception. ... The judge's action, which was made Monday, prompted lawmakers to press the Justice Department as to why it didn't make a stronger bid to resist the judge's plans. ... A Justice Department official said no one at the department asked Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler to come to the hospital, where 19-year-old Mr. Tsarnaev was recovering, and that she made the determination on her own, following standard court-room practice. Federal rules of criminal procedure require that defendants appear before a judge without unnecessary delay—usually defined as within one business day."

New Ricin Suspect on the Run: Associated Press: "Authorities in Mississippi say they are searching for the chief person of interest in the investigation of poisoned letters sent to President Barack Obama and other officials. Itawamba County Sheriff Chris Dickinson says he is helping the FBI, which told him Everett Dutschke had been under surveillance but slipped away on Wednesday. Itawamba deputies searched a home in Ozark where Dickinson said Dutschke was believed to have been on Wednesday. They found no one. The sheriff says he believes a friend of Dutschke 'may be helping him to lay low'.'

And You Almost Forget About the Sequester: Reuters: "U.S. Senate leaders are frantically trying to pull together a plan to alleviate widespread airline flight delays - brought about by last month's automatic federal spending cuts - with legislation that could be voted upon as early as Thursday. The House of Representatives could vote soon after but leaders in that chamber first want to see what the Senate produces, fearing a retreat on this issue could open the door to easing other budget cuts. Lawmakers are eager to find a fix before they head out of town for next week's congressional recess. They are concerned about deepening public resentment over the delays caused by the furloughs of air traffic controllers."

The President's Club: NBC News: "Giving a broad-strokes defense of his eight years in the White House, former president George W. Bush celebrated the dedication of his Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas on Thursday. 'We expanded freedom at home by raising standards in schools and lowering taxes for everybody. We liberated nations from dictatorship and freed people from AIDS,' he said. And he added, alluding to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, 'when our nation came under attack we made the tough decisions required to keep the American people safe,' he said. ... In the audience were the nation’s three other former living presidents – George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter – as well as current commander in chief Barack Obama. Also in attendance were pivotal figures from the Bush era, including former Vice President Dick Cheney and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. ... To no one’s surprise, the ex-presidents’ remarks -- and Obama's too -- generally shied away from re-litigating the controversies of Bush’s presidency."

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