Chemical red line

Syria-Homs- KArmAlzyton 23-2-2012

Syria-Homs- KArmAlzyton 23-2-2012 (Photo credit: FreedomHouse)

“The Syrian government has crossed President Obama’s red line.”

It’s a curious kind of truth, isn’t it?  Artificial, in a sense, like an agreed rule in a game: if a player rolls a double six then he/she gets an extra turn.  In this case it’s taken a great deal of work to prove the double six was indeed rolled, and the conclusion has been rather muddied by the suggestion that the other player may also have rolled a double six, but nevertheless the umpire who set the rule has now ruled: an action has occurred and therefore a reaction should follow.

There are good legal reasons for the red line.  International law permits the use of measured force by governments against their own rebellious citizens, whereas 189 states have signed up to the Chemical Weapons Convention prohibiting the use of chemical weapons under any circumstances.  But in practical terms, it’s an irrelevance.  93,000 people have now been killed in the Syrian civil war, almost all of them by conventional gunfire, artillery and bombing.  The few who might have died of sarin poisoning (approx. 150 people) are, in the grand scheme of things, beside the point.

The most obvious truth is, surely, that the US, Britain and France are sick of watching the Assad-sponsored slaughter, are worried that the opposition are on the verge of collapse, and want an excuse to intervene more forcefully.

But after Iraq that’s not a truth that any western government can voice.  So instead, the President of the United States has to fall back on a different, arbitrary truth — about Weapons of Mass Destruction (again).

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