More than two years after civil war broke out in Syria, the Obama Administration has conducted an about-face, saying it now plans to arm rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad. “The President has been clear that the use of chemical weapons, or the transfer of chemical weapons to terrorist groups, is a red line for the United States,” said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for strategic communications in a June 13 White House statement to Congress. “Our intelligence communication now has a high confidence assessment that chemical weapons have been used on a small scale by the Assad regime in Syria.” Rhodes estimated that 100 to 150 people have died from detected chemical weapons attacks in Syria to date. Though he acknowledged that number is small when compared to the “catastrophic loss of life in Syria”—more than 90,000 deaths—he said that “the use of chemical weapons violates international norms and crosses clear red lines that have existed within the international community for decades.” Reuters, citing two senior Western diplomats, reported that the US also is considering instituting a no-fly zone over Syria, near the Jordan border. (See also The Syria Question from the March edition of Air Force Magazine) (Joint statement by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.