Obama Red Line: President Trying to Save Face, But is Giving the Rebels Too Little Too Late

Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters the president has decided to “increase both the type and scale of support” aimed at “strengthening the opposition” as a consequence of the administration’s confirmation of what we all knew a few months ago, that Assad has used chemical weapons against the rebels. But this move to save face is too little too late. 

"Following on the credible evidence that the regime has used chemical weapons against the Syrian people, the President has augmented the provision of non-lethal assistance to the civilian opposition, and also authorized the expansion of our assistance to the Supreme Military Council," Rhodes said.

The Brookings Institute’s Shadi Hamid says that this announcement is “partly about saving face. It was getting embarrassing,” Hamid said. “At some point you have to do something to overcome those perceptions.” So Obama has finally decided to acknowledge that Assad used chemical weapons, and in response to the crossing of the red line all the administration will do is to increase the current aid they are giving.

“We have to all admit the rebels are losing now,” Hamid continues, “Arming the rebels ... I don’t think it will really matter a whole lot. That, by itself, is not enough to tip the balance decisively one way or the other.” The New York Times reports that the assistance will include small arms and ammunition, with a “possibility” that anti-tank weapons might be offered in the future, but no anti-aircraft capabilities.

Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says the announced aid can only buy time. Effective aid at this point would have to come in the form of a no-fly zone. Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham said President Barack Obama should establish a no-fly zone to opponents of Bashar al-Assad.

But Rhodes told the press, “there’s not even a clear guarantee that it would dramatically improve the situation on the ground where you have regime forces and irregular regime-associated forces essentially commingled with opposition forces in a civilian population. That’s a very hard challenge to get at from the air.” Rhodes added, "The president has said that the use of chemical weapons would change his calculus, and it has,” but only in the sense that he now recognizes that he needs to act to change face.

Obama is trying to appease Republicans pressing for greater action and reassure the war-weary American public. Obama promised this would be a "game changer" in the conflict, but the only person who will benefit is Obama, who is trying to preserve his international credibility.