In his August 26th briefing on Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry made clear the urgency and gravity with which the Obama administration is considering its response to what Western consensus deems to have been a chemical attack on civilians by the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Though President Obama has since stated that a course of action has not yet been decided, Kerry all but swore to its imminence:
At President Obama’s direction, I’ve spent many hours over the last few days on the phone with foreign ministers and other leaders. The Administration is actively consulting with members of Congress and we will continue to have these conversations in the days ahead. President Obama has also been in close touch with the leaders of our key allies, and the President will be making an informed decision about how to respond to this indiscriminate use of chemical weapons. But make no mistake: President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world’s most heinous weapons against the world’s most vulnerable people. Nothing today is more serious and nothing is receiving more serious scrutiny.
Kerry also spoke forcefully of the shock dealt to the “conscience of the world” by the attack in Syria, condemning such indiscriminate use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians as a “moral obscenity.” Reasonable people can and do disagree about the appropriate role of the United States in the world’s response to Assad, about the selectivity of American concern, about the propriety of elevating chemical weapons use above so much other atrocity, but there is little room to consider the attack anything but an act that “defies any code of morality,” as Kerry put it.
In the churning debates on American response there is constant reference to Obama’s August 2012 remarks on his “red line” in Syria. In a press release yesterday, for example, House Speaker John Boehner presented Obama with a series of trenchant questions regarding action on Syria. He began, though, by noting the situation’s implications for “America’s credibility across the globe,” before challenging the President to defend his “red line”: