But “there’s a deterrent effect in making clear how seriously we take the use of chemical weapons or giving them to some proxy force,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid. [my emphasis]
As I’ve written before, deterrence requires a credible threat. It isn’t enough to issue ominous-sounding ultimata unless they are believed. So when you draw ‘red lines’, you better be prepared to take action when they are crossed. Otherwise future threats will be ignored, and your opponents will push even harder. If you can’t back up a threat, don’t make it. This is one of those lessons we learn early on in the schoolyard.
So you would think that, given the overwhelming evidence, the U.S. would take action. So far, that hasn’t happened and the administration is pushing back against the reports:
“We support an investigation. We are monitoring this,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said. “We have not come to the conclusion that there has been that use. But it is something that is of great concern to us, to our partners, and obviously unacceptable, as the president made clear.” …
Secretary of State John F. Kerry, who is in Brussels for NATO meetings on Syria, said that he spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by phone Tuesday morning and that Netanyahu “was not in a position to confirm” the assessment by Israel’s military. Kerry said further investigation is necessary.
There is no doubt in my mind that Israel and the U.K. have presented hard evidence to U.S. agencies. The fact that they have now gone public is an indication that the response was less than what they had hoped for and they are now attempting to push the administration into living up to its commitments.
Israel fully understands the dangers inherent in intervention in the conflict, especially if it involves providing more aid to the rebels, some of which are associated with dangerous Sunni Islamist groups, including al Qaeda. But there is a worse danger, which is that these groups will get their hands on the weapons. So I assume that what Israel wants is action to secure them.
Just like the Iranian nuclear program, these weapons are a much more immediate danger to Israel than to America, although it is certainly possible that an al Qaeda type group could smuggle chemical agents into the U.S.. But as in the Iranian question, there is a difference in the perception of the urgency of the situation.
The administration should understand, though, that its credibility and deterrence are at stake. If it chooses to pretend that nothing is going on, then both the Syrian regime and Iran will understand that threats from the U.S. are not to be taken seriously.
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