With so many Beltway voices calling for U.S. military intervention in Syria, President Obama finally drew a "red line" Monday that would prompt U.S. engagement in the region. Sort of, anyway. While the president said he hadn't yet ordered a military intervention "at this point," if President Bashar al-Assad transports or uses the country's chemical weapons, that could trigger military action. "A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized," the president said during a White House news conference. "That would change my calculus." While that sounds like a pretty clear cut indicator of where the president stands, it remains a bit murky because Syria has already crossed this red line, according to U.S. officials, at least when it comes to transporting chemical weapons.
In July, The Wall Street Journal cited U.S. officials saying "Syria has begun moving parts of its vast arsenal of chemical weapons out of storage facilities." The report was also confirmed by a subsequent story in The New York Times. At the time, it wasn't clear why the Assad regime was moving the weapons. "Some U.S. officials fear Damascus intends to use the weapons against the rebels or civilians, potentially as part of a targeted ethnic cleansing campaign," reported The Journal's Julian E. Barnes, Jay Solomon, and Adam Entous. "But other officials said Mr. Assad may be trying to safeguard the material from his opponents or to complicate Western powers' efforts to track the weapons." While today's threat may keep Assad and international observers guessing as to America's willingness to establish a no-fly zone or start weaponizing rebels overtly, Obama did seem to clearly convey that he didn't think the conflict would resolve itself peacefully. “At this point the likelihood of a soft landing seems pretty distant,” he said.