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Opinion: Obama Under Seige in Syria | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A picture taken on April 26, 2013 shows Abu Tarek, a 74-year-old retired army officer, trying on a homemade gas-mask assembled using a plastic bottle, coal, cotton, gauze, cola, and cardboard, for protection against chemical weapons, in Syria’s northern Latakia province. (AFP PHOTO / MIGUEL MEDINA)

The US president is now under siege—not Bashar Al-Assad, who is likely hiding in a cellar in Damascus.

President Obama himself announced that chemical weapons have been transported or used by Assad. This means a change in the rules of the game; the red lines have been crossed. If we are to believe the rhetoric, this will result in a US intervention—and of course, the intervention could take various forms.

The US is not the only party claiming to have evidence that Assad’s regime has transported or used chemical weapons: Britain, France, Israel and the Syrian opposition also claim to have such evidence. Of course, we should not forget that the regime itself has accused the opposition of using chemical weapons; neither should we forget the regime’s refusal to allow a UN team to enter Syria to conduct investigations.

Assad has now crossed every red line, according to President Obama’s yardstick. We must remember that killing is killing, whether it is by plane or bomb or chemical weapons, and Assad’s regime has committed a variety of atrocities against its own people.

So what will President Obama do with Assad, now that he has broken the rules of the game? Will the US president continue to hesitate and avoid taking decisive action against Assad’s crimes, and thus lose his credibility? Does the US administration even understand the seriousness of what Assad has done?

Some will point out that Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against the Kurds, and was not punished at the time even though it was a crime by all standards. However, had Saddam been punished, Assad would not have dared to commit such a similar attack today.

Complicating the matter further, circumstances in the region have become even more complex, particularly with Iran’s efforts to acquire nuclear and other weapons. What Assad has done only foreshadows the hell that awaits us if this regional proliferation is not contained.

Regrettably, what has now been proven is that the regimes in the region that possess these weapons do not use them against an enemy—they use them against their own people. This is what Saddam did, what Assad is doing now, and what Iran will do in the future if it is allowed to possess chemical or nuclear weapons.

Even more dangerous is that it is very likely that the Assad regime will provide an affiliated group with chemical weapons, so that when they are used the regime will be able to claim that a terrorist group is responsible. We have already seen this in the statements of Al-Qaeda or of Abu Adas after the assassination of Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri.

Assad has not changed the rules of the game in Syria only, but in the whole region. He has proven to President Obama the danger his regime poses, and that it was a mistake to hesitate before engaging with the Syrian crisis. The pressure on President Obama to take serious, tangible action is increasing; if he fails to act, he will lose his credibility and expose the entire region to further violence and instability.

Until Obama moves, he is the one who is under siege—not Bashar Al-Assad, the tyrant of Damascus.