Syria Crossed President Obama’s Red Line. What Happens Next?

BY Terence Burlij and Christina Bellantoni  June 14, 2013 at 9:00 AM EST

REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic
An unexploded mortar shell fired by Syrian Army sits, half buried in the ground, in a suburb of Damascus, January 25, 2013.

The Morning Line

With the United States concluding that the Syrian government crossed President Barack Obama’s red line by using chemical weapons against rebel forces in the country’s civil war, the question now becomes what is on the other side.

“We now have a high-confidence assessment that chemical weapons have been used on a small scale by the Assad regime,” Ben Rhodes, the president’s deputy national security adviser, said during a conference call with reporters Thursday. Rhodes added that the president “has said that the use of chemical weapons would change his calculus, and it has.”

Among the findings Rhodes shared, the weapons used by the Syrian government included the nerve agent sarin. The intelligence community estimates that between 100 and 150 people have been killed by chemical weapons.

When asked about the unfolding conflict in Syria last August, Mr. Obama said “that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.”

The Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung and Anne Gearan report that the Obama administration’s response is expected to include direct military support to the rebels.

Rhodes did not detail what he called the expanded military support, but it is expected initially to consist of light arms and ammunition. He said the shipments would be “responsive to the needs” expressed by the rebel command.

Obama has “not made any decision” to pursue a military option such as a no-fly zone and has ruled out the deployment of U.S. ground troops, Rhodes said.

Syria’s outgunned rebels have issued urgent appeals this week for antitank and antiaircraft weaponry to counter a government offensive that is backed by Hezbollah fighters and Iranian militia forces.

Some in Congress are urging the president to take more forceful action, including Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. The Republican lawmakers called on the president to supply the rebels with heavy weapons to combat tanks and aircraft, and to establish a no-fly zone in Syria.

“I applaud the president’s decision and I appreciate it, but the president of the United States had better understand that just supplying weapons is not going to change the equation on the ground of the balance of power,” McCain said Thursday on the Senate floor.

“The goal is to end the war. And the only way this war is going to end quickly and on our terms is to neutralize the air assets that Assad enjoys,” Graham said. “We can crater the runways. There are four air bases he uses. We can stop the planes from flying. We can shoot planes down without having one boot on the ground.”

As the president weighs his options with Syria, there are signs the administration’s approach to this point has rankled allies in the region. The New York Times reports:

But the president’s caution has frayed relations with important American allies in the Middle East that have privately described the White House strategy as feckless. Saudi Arabia and Jordan recently cut the United States out of a new rebel training program, a decision that American officials said came from the belief in Riyadh and Amman that the United States has only a tepid commitment to supporting rebel groups.

Moreover, the United Arab Emirates declined to host a meeting of allied defense officials to discuss Syria, concerned that in the absence of strong American leadership the conference might degenerate into bickering and finger-pointing among various gulf nations with different views on the best ways to support the rebellion.

The administration’s decision to escalate its involvement in the conflict came as a new report from the United Nations Human Rights Office found that at least 93,000 Syrians have died during the country’s civil war. And Syria will on the top of the agenda at next week’s Group of Eight summit in Northern Ireland.

The NewsHour led Thursday’s show with the late-breaking news. Watch the segment here or below:

EVOLVING ATTITUDES ON GAY MARRIAGE

Ahead of major Supreme Court rulings this month on same-sex marriage, the NewsHour reported two stories Thursday night on the issue and how gays and lesbians believe they are perceived.

We began with a sweeping new study from the Pew Research Center illustrating how the LGBT community views the gay rights movement and their own place in society. Pew examined the phenomenon of coming out, discrimination and attitudes toward the marriage debate.

Ray Suarez talked with survey co-author Paul Taylor and UCLA’s Gary Gates.

Watch the conversation here or below:

We also looked ahead to how California is preparing for a ruling on whether its Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage is constitutional. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom weighed in, and we talked with couples affected by the decision.

Watch Correspondent Spencer Michels’ report here or below:

And the New York Times’ Mike Shear reported Friday the White House is readying next steps ahead of the ruling, since he’s presented “with a series of complicated and politically sensitive decisions: how aggressively to overhaul references to marriage throughout the many volumes that lay out the laws of the United States.”

Shear writes:

The decisions could affect Social Security checks, immigration laws and military benefits for same-sex couples, among other issues, with the outcomes based on whether the couples live in a state that allows them to marry.

Gay rights advocates, aware that a Supreme Court ruling that overturns the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act would be the beginning of their push to have the federal government recognize same-sex marriage, are urging White House officials to plan to modify hundreds of mentions of marriage throughout federal statutes and regulations. Many legal analysts say there is a substantial chance that the Supreme Court will strike down the 1996 law, which in defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman denies federal benefits to same-sex couples.

LINE ITEMS

  • The Supreme Court has banned demonstrations on its grounds.
  • At the Clinton Global Initiative in Chicago, speculation was rampant about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s political future. Phil Rucker outlines Clinton’s new charitable agenda, and CNN’s Erin McPike reports on how the initiative will be renamed to reflect both Hillary and daughter Chelsea’s involvement.
  • Senators rejected an amendment from Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, that dealt with border security. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday that senators should expect to work though weekends until amendments to the immigration reform legislation are completed. No more votes are scheduled for this week but next week the Senate will return to measures that would deal with border security and citizenship for adopted children. Politico plots the slow path.
  • Politico’s Darren Goode reports that the president may release a climate plan in July. And at the premiere of his “Pandora’s Promise” documentary about nuclear power Thursday, director Robert Stone told the crowd he is expecting Mr. Obama to speak about the issue this summer.
  • The president and Vice President Joe Biden met Thursday with families who lost their loved ones in the Newtown, Conn., school shooting six months ago.
  • Sen. Rand Paul says he will join an ACLU lawsuit against the government for its domestic surveillance program. He also complained about the administration’s Middle East strategy.
  • Reuters reported that “the U.S. government’s surveillance of phone and Internet communications led to the 2009 arrest of a Chicago man who was planning to bomb a Danish newspaper that had published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad.”
  • Amy Walter’s Cook Political Report column focuses on demographic shifts and what House Republicans have to gain politically from immigration reform.
  • Sen. Marco Rubio warned in a radio interview that he “would walk away from pushing a bipartisan immigration reform bill if a provision covering same-sex couples is added,” The Hill reports.
  • Shorter Rubio: Trent Who?
  • Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, on Thursday vetoed a measure that would have required universal background checks for gun purchases.
  • Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud is running for governor of Maine.
  • The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Thursday that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has withdrawn the appointment of a student representative to the University of Wisconsin System’s Board of Regents. The student, 20-year-old University of Wisconsin-Platteville sophomore Joshua Inglett, signed a petition to recall Walker in 2011.
  • The New York Times examines the complex political fight over curbing sexual assaults in the military.
  • The Navy may now communicate without using the all-capital letter format its relied on since the 1850s.
  • The White House scrapped plans for the president and first lady’s upcoming Tanzanian safari after the Washington Post reported snipers would accompany them to protect from lions and cheetahs.
  • “Meet the Press” Executive Producer Betsy Fischer Martin penned this touching tribute to Tim Russert, who died five years ago Thursday. Gwen Ifill devoted her column to Russert this week. And the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza also reflected on the journalist’s death and how it changed Washington.
  • A victory for history, the 400-page diary of Nazi Alfred Rosenger was recovered after it went missing for more than 60 years. The diary is expected to reveal new insights into Hitler’s inner circle.
  • A pair of stories Thursday showcased children of members of Congress getting into trouble. Just after Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. apologized for his son’s Twitter feed, Republican Rep. Joe Heck’s teenage son got in trouble at school back home in Nevada for critical Twitter comments about the president. And Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu’s 21-year-old son was arrested in New Orleans on charges of a hit-and-run while driving under the influence.
  • Meredith Shiner breaks down the annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game — an embarrassing 22-0 loss for the Republicans. Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana was again the Democrats’ star as pitcher.

NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

  • We examined the unanimous Supreme Court decision which found naturally occurring genes cannot be patented. Watch here or below.

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Desk assistant Mallory Sofastaii and Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

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