Obama: 'I Didn't Set a Red Line'

September 4, 2013

President Barack Obama said Wednesday he did not "set a red line" on the use of chemical weapons in Syria as a prerequisite for U.S. military action at a press conference with the Swedish prime minister:

REPORTER: Have you made up your mind whether to take action against Syria, whether or not you have a Congressional resolution approved? Is a strike needed in order to preserve your credibility for when you set these sort of red lines? And, were you able to enlist the support of the prime minister here for support in Syria?

BARACK OBAMA: Let me unpack the question. First of all, I didn't set a red line. The world set a red line. The world set a red line when governments representing 98 percent of the world's population said the use of chemical weapons are abhorrent and passed a treaty forbidding their use even when countries are engaged in war. Congress set a red line when it ratified that treaty. Congress set a red line when it indicated in a piece of legislation titled the Syria Accountability Act that some of the horrendous things that are happening on the ground there need to be answered for. So, when I said, in a press conference, that my calculus about what's happening in Syria would be altered by the use of chemical weapons, which the overwhelming consensus of humanity says is wrong, that wasn't something I just kind of made up. I didn't pluck it out of thin air. There's a reason for it.

Dating back to last summer, the Obama administration—including the president himself—has emphasized that the use of chemical weapons would be a "red line" in Syria.

"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," Obama said at the White House in August 2012. "That would change my calculations significantly."

In his remarks Wednesday, Obama framed his push for military action agains the Assad regime as a question of American and international credibility.