Kerry: Chemical weapons used in Syria

The long forewarned "red line" for U.S. military intervention may have been crossed. What now?

By Natasha Lennard
Published August 26, 2013 8:09PM (EDT)

Citing accounts from humanitarian organizations alongside other intelligence, Secretary of State John Kerry stated Monday that it was "undeniable" that Bashar al-Assad's regime had used chemical weapons in a rebel-held suburb of Damascus.

Kerry noted that the Syrian government's decision to grant U.N. investigators access to the site of the attack came "too late to be credible."

The use of chemical weapons against civilians has for many months been the amorphous "red line" cited by the Obama administration as the point at which the U.S. would militarily intervene, even though for some time reports from both sides of the bloody civil war have claimed the use of nerve gas.

Whether Kerry's announcement constitutes a claim that the president's "red line" has been officially crossed, however, remains unclear (evidencing again how loosely defining concepts of "red lines" and "intervention" permits for a grand application of ideological condemnation and grandstanding before any realpolitik). Indeed Speaker John Boehner was swift to say that the Syrian government had now crossed the red line for intervention, but it's not so clear what that "red line" ever was.

As ABC News noted:

The use of chemical weapons, itself, was not exactly Obama’s original “red line,” as he laid it out during a news conference at the White House on Aug. 20, 2012. For purposes of expediency and practicality, media outlets have simplified the “red line” as this: If Syria deployed chemical weapons against its own people, it would have crossed a threshold with the White House.
But what Obama said was a little less clear.
“We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized,” the president said a year ago last week. “That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”
It was also unclear what the consequences of crossing that “red line” would be.

As such the U.S.'s precise next move in regards to Syria remains unknown, despite Kerry's forceful words Monday. However, it's now undeniable that a Western consensus is forming -- aligned with Israel -- behind military intervention.

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Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email

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Bashar Al-assad Chemical Weapons Damascus John Kerry Middle East Red Line Secretary Of State Syria