American Proscenium

“Not a Slam Dunk”: Syria and Chemical Weapons

On August 31, President Obama announced that he would seek congressional approval for military action against Syria, in response to chemical-weapons attacks that took place outside Damascus ten days earlier.  The White House said the attacks killed 1,400 people, including more than 400 children, and that the U.S.-imposed “red line” had been crossed by the Syrian military.  The following day, Secretary of State John Kerry claimed that the United States had “independently” obtained samples of hair and blood of victims from “first responders” via “an appropriate chain of custody,” and that those samples tested positive for “signatures” of sarin nerve gas.  (U.N. inspectors who had taken such samples had left Syria only one day earlier, announcing that a final report on their findings could take as long as two weeks to complete.)  As of this writing, the White House’s latest statements on the alleged attacks aligned with the assertion—made without any presentation of direct evidence—by President Obama on August 28 that President Bashar al-Assad’s government was responsible for the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war.

In making his sarin-gas claims, Kerry also said that the President could decide to act against Syria even if Congress did not approve an attack, though the secretary of state added that Obama hoped...

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