There is nothing more disturbing than watching a child die, watching him retch and struggle to breath, watching him search wide-eyed and helpless for some kind of savior, his mother or father, anyone who can relieve his terror and pain. There is nothing more heartbreaking than seeing the look in his eyes as he realizes that no help is coming, that he has failed in his struggle for life. There is nothing more maddening than watching that life slip away, than watching the struggling stop and knowing why.
These are the images coming out of Syria yesterday, images that should haunt and disturb. They are the terrible consequences of chemical war – the consequences of weakness.
“We have been very clear to the Assad regime — but also to other players on the ground — that a red line for us is [if] we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.”
Those were the words uttered by President Obama exactly one year ago. He was addressing the then-smoldering crisis in Syria and reports that its president Bashar al-Assad might use the large chemical weapon stockpiles at his disposal.
“We have communicated in no uncertain terms with every player in the region that that’s a red line for us and that there would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front or the use of chemical weapons.”
Again, these are Mr. Obama’s words, spoken plainly and publicly. They are not the words of a spokesman or a surrogate. They are not an off-the-cuff answer to some reporter’s shouted question. They were purposefully spoken and they carry the weight of the office whose occupant spoke them.
They are damning.
They are damning because of all the people in the world, Mr. Obama has the power to save that dying Syrian child. They are damning because Mr. Obama threw caution and American law to the wind to save similar children in Libya.
They are damning because Mr. Obama who promised to save them.
It is the indiscriminate and horrific way that chemical weapons kill that makes them so reviled. They strike down those who do nothing more than breathe, inflicting a choking, gasping terror on soldier and civilian alike.
Children and the elderly are their first and surest victims. Healthy adults with large, strong lungs can survive poison gas but the young and the frail have little hope.
It was hope that Mr. Obama promised in his speech one year ago. Hope that innocent Syrians would not be murdered by a brutal dictator. Hope that the then-simmering conflict would not turn into an indiscriminate slaughter. Hope that Syria’s children would not choke to death in the streets.
Tragically, Mr. Obama failed. He failed to enforce his red line the first time the Syrian regime used poison gas. Instead of demonstrating that the American President’s words carried weight, he revealed them to be hollow, vapid blustering – mere posturing – no better than an actor’s feigned rage.
Mr. Obama should be better than an actor. His words carry real weight, his office great power. When he speaks, when he promises action, when he vows to intervene on behalf of innocents who cannot protect themselves he is not merely playing a part for his cynical Washington audience – he is making real promises.
To fail to live up to those promises makes him accountable. It makes him culpable.
The blood of those innocent Syrians, gassed to death by the thousands, is on Mr. Obama’s hands. It is on his hands because he promised action. It is on his hands because he vowed that it would be a red line and that civilians would be on the saving side of that line.
Their blood is on his hands because he has too much power to speak lightly. Mr. Obama promised that the use of chemical weapons would bring American power, that it would bring American protection, that it would bring American salvation.
He has failed. Shame on him.
Matt Cover is Content Editor at Rare. Follow him on Twitter @MattCover