Heading into the first public discussion of serious policy on a highly symbolic first day of his trip to Israel, President Obama faced a simple question: Did Tuesday's dueling accusations about chemical weapons in Syria cross his supposed "red line" to engage or not? Well, the line is still there, and chemical weapons are a "game changer" — he's just not sure who crossed it yet. But at a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama did go so far as to say that he was "deeply skeptical of any claim that in fact it was the opposition that used chemical weapons," as Syrian state television had the day before. Indeed, pressed by foreign reporters, the President appeared to double down on the seriousness of using chemical weapons: "When you let that genie out of the bottle, you are looking at even more serious threats," he said, adding that he was awaiting an international investigation, which both the Assad regime and the rebels in the Syrian conflict also called for today, before the international community would consider any action.
The Obama doctrine may have been in full force, but it came after a day of international hemming and hawing: White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and Press Secretary Jay Carney reiterated that Syria would prompt an American response if its government began using chemical weapons. After Republican Senator Lindsey Graham indicated that Syria's use of chemical weapons might lead to U.S. ground troops, Republican Congressman Mike Rogers, who serves as chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee, told CNN on Wednesday that he has "a high probability to believe that chemical weapons were used" by the Syrian government under President Bashar al-Assad.
President Obama expressed his views during a joint press conference with Netanyahu, who met with Obama to discuss Israel's alliance with the United States — in particular the latter's response to the Iranian government's efforts to build a nuclear arsenal. During the conference, Netanyahu acknowledged that Iran has yet to reach his own so-called "red line" that he spelled out in his infamous address at the United Nations in September 2012, saying that he agreed with Obama that it would take "about a year" for Iran to weaponize a nuclear weapon if they even could. Obama emphasized that the United States would not exert a containment policy toward Iran under the present circumstances, and would instead seek a diplomatic route to preventing Iran from obtaining materials, like enriched uranium, that are used to build nuclear weapons. Netanyahu said he was "absolutely convinced" that the U.S. was devoted to help Israel from allowing Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon.
The press conference was the final public even of many on the first of three days during Obama's first trip to Israel while in office. And, despite all the chemical weapons and nuclear build-up, it seems to be going just swell. The two leaders opened the press conference complementing the good looks of each others' families, ganged up on NBC News' Chuck Todd a bit, and, well, there's been happy tweeting:
Unbreakable alliance between our two nations twitter.com/netanyahu/stat…— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) March 20, 2013