Bombing for Morality

A gift for words was always US President Barack Obama’s strongest asset. In Syria, it now looks as if his words – calling the use of chemical weapons a red line that Bashar al-Assad must not cross – have trapped him.

NEW YORK – A gift for words was always US President Barack Obama’s strongest asset. Now it looks as if his words have trapped him.

Having stated in March that the United States would “not tolerate the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people,” and having spoken last year about a “red line” that could not be crossed, he will lose face if he fails to react forcefully to the murder, allegedly by the Syrian regime, of more than 1,000 civilians by sarin gas. Of course, the risk of losing face is not a good reason for attacking another country.

But why did Obama fence himself in with such rhetoric in the first place? Why this particular red line? Secretary of State John Kerry was right to call the use of gas “a moral obscenity.” But so is torturing children, which is how the civil war in Syria actually began more than two years ago. And is killing civilians with chemical agents morally more obscene than shelling, shooting, or starving them to death?

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