updated 5/5/2013 11:48:43 AM ET 2013-05-05T15:48:43

Talk of chemical weapons and black and white rhetoric recalls the march to war in Iraq, Sunday's Up with Steve Kornacki guests discuss.

Bombs rattled Damascus as Israel bombed military targets early Sunday morning, a move that increases pressure on President Obama to intervene in Syria. This is the second attack launched by Israel in two days, and the Israeli officials have said that the bombings were necessary to prevent Syria from delivering weapons to terrorist groups.

Rebel forces have been fighitng against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad While the two year old civil war has led to 70,000 deaths and created thousands of refugees, calls for US military action have been increasing since evidence emerged that Syrian government forces may have used chemical weapons on its own citizens.

President Obama said last August that the use of chemical weapons would cross a “red line“  that would require action. Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to involvement in another conflict; a recent New York Times/CBS News poll found that 62% of respondents did not support intervention.

Talk of chemical weapons and black and white rhetoric recall the march to war in Iraq; on Sunday’s Up with Steve Kornacki, guests Joan Walsh, Amr Al-Azm, Andrew Tabler, and Michael Hanna joined Steve Kornacki to discuss the latest developments, how we can define what constitutes this “red line,” and what options the Obama administration has.

The administration has said that there is not sufficient evidence to prove that Syria used chemical weapons against its own people, but even it if did, there are other factors that should be considered before launching an offensive. Hanna, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, cautioned against viewing chemical weapons as  “the linchpin that will shift US policy.”

Watch Up with Steve Kornacki every Saturday and Sunday at 8 AM ET.

Video: How we can define ‘red line’

  1. Closed captioning of: How we can define ‘red line’

    >>> raised the point of basically the red line was set more of this abstract-feeling thing maybe a year ago, and now the administration's being confronted with it to believe "the new york times" today maybe they didn't think they were going to be.

    >> that's right. i would add a note of caution. these are sketchy allegations, reports. there are tests that indicate a likelihood of low-level usage of chemical weapons . there are big questions still about chain of custody , perhaps command and control and how decision-making is being made within the syrian military. so i think we're not perhaps at a point where we can draw far-reaching conclusions. and of course, there are the los of other red lines that have been crossed. war crimes , crimes against humanity, usage of chemical weapons is a very important international norm, and it needs to be protected. but i don't think we should see this an isolation as the linchpin that should shift u.s. policy and u.s. strategy.

    >> although we should say so more recently now when you have the senior -- the suspicions now that chemical weapons have been used, the president sort of clarified, maybe even moved the goalposts a little bit, i think this was a week or two ago where he said now it's the systematic -- the systematic use of chemical weapons on civilian populations. so he's sort of qualifying it. and the feeling i'm getting listening to this is basically this is a guy who does not want to be intervening and is looking not to be drawn into it at almost any cost.

    >> but it's worse because he said we don't know weather and we don't know where. does it matter when and where they were used if they've been used? they've been used. and then the last one, by who? the regime -- delivering chemical weapons is not something that you can just, like, you're sprinkling sort of frosting on a cake. it's a complicated, delicate process. it requires very high certain type of technology, and only the regime has it. to even ask the question of who used it --

    >> this is where it gets interesting. i think and very complicated because you're right, at a certain level, we can document all sorts of horrible things, all sorts of atrocities that have played out over the two years.

    >> look at just a few days ago.

    >> but i think the question becomes, when we start saying the natural human instinct is to do something, but there can also -- i think there's a compel compelling that doing something could make it worse.

    >> it's hard to seeing how doing lessor the same. the trajectory of the conflict on so many different levels is getting so bad. if the dead pools continue at this rate, we'll reach the 100,000 mark in syria. that's roughly the number killed in bosnia in 2 1/2 years of fighting. that's also the second anniversary in august of president obama saying that assad has to step aside, right? so to continue what we're doing now, it's important to know what was used, right? it's important to go up that chain. but then we have to look at, well, what is the investigative structure here? it's the united nations . the investigation to come and look at the site is being blocked by the assad regime. even the scope of that investigation can only investigate one site. after they go to that one site, they're not allowed to assess who used the weapons. how is that going to help us solve this problem? so i think the united states needs to look at how else can they go about trying to solve this problem, find out what happened and keep assad from moving up the escalation chain. i think that's what the white house is asking now. how do you not get sucked into a conflict quickly where you're forced to escalate and do something that could make the situation worse and could also hurt the president politically.

    >> we shouldn't get stuck in a false binary influenced by the israeli air strike , that the choices here are what we're doing now versus direct u.s. military , a la no-fly zone. there are options and that's where we need to focus at the moment.

    >> what are some of those options?

    >> first of all, we have to have an investigation into what happened. the white house leaked a story to "the new york times" a few months ago saying they leaked. you could hit those bombs. those are loaded guns. they could hit that and lay down that red line . there are lots of other things you could do, too. no one is talking about putting troops on the ground in syria. the president has said that. the american public won't top late it. there could be missile strikes, a lot of other options that could enforce this red line and keep assad from moving up the escalation chain.

    >> i've read very compelling arguments saying when you start talking about tactical or focused air strikes , practically speaking, that's very difficult to do. and i think in a lot of the arguments for intervening, people hear -- we mentioned the polls, people hear a lot of echoes of the debate we had ten years ago headed into iraq, and i think that's shaping the conversation here a little bit. i do want to talk about the iraq angle of this after this. [ both ]


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