Let's get this out of the way: Yes, President Obama declared that Syria's use of chemical weapons would cross a "red line" -- words that have triggered the United States debating whether to take military action in that country.
"We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized," Obama said at an Aug. 20, 2012 news conference. "That would change my calculus. That would change my equation."
But here's something else to remember: Few, if anyone, disagreed with Obama's red line back then. That includes the GOP presidential ticket -- notable in a presidential election when the candidates couldn't agree on almost any important issue.
Indeed, during the October vice-presidential debate, Paul Ryan said that the GOP ticket agreed with Obama's red line on Syria's use of chemical weapons. Here's the exchange:
RADDATZ: What happens if Assad does not fall, Congressman Ryan? What happens to the region? What happens if he hangs on? What happens if he does?
RYAN: Then Iran keeps their greatest ally in the region. He's a sponsor of terrorism. He'll probably continue slaughtering his people. We and the world community will lose our credibility on this. Look, he mentioned the reset…
RADDATZ: So what would Romney-Ryan do about that credibility?
RYAN: Well, we agree with the same red line, actually, they do on chemical weapons, but not putting American troops in, other than to secure those chemical weapons. They're right about that. But what we should have done earlier is work with those freedom fighters, those dissidents in Syria. We should not have called Bashar Assad a reformer.
To repeat Ryan here: "We agree with the same red line, actually."
What's more, during an interview that came just right after Obama's "red line" comment, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney said that the United States could send troops into Syria to secure lose chemical weapons.
"I think we have to also be ready to take whatever action is necessary to ensure that we do not have any kind of weapon of mass destruction falling into the hands of terrorists and whether that requires troops, or whether that requires other actions by our friends and allies," he told CBS in an Aug. 24, 2012 interview.
(That Romney comment about U.S. troops in Syria is ironic given the reaction to Secretary of State John Kerry even mentioning a similar hypothetical this week, which Kerry later walked back.)
When asked about the threat that Syria's chemical weapons posed, Romney added in that interview: "Well, there's a wide array of potential threats, but clearly the concern would be that some terrorist group -- whether Hamas, Hezbollah, al Qaeda or others -- would receive the capacity to carry out a mass destruction, mass death event, and therefore, America has to be ready whether it's there or anywhere else in the world."
Of course, just because opposing presidential candidates agree on an issue doesn't mean it won't become a point of contention later. After all, in 2008, both Barack Obama and John McCain supported closing the Guantanamo Bay prison. Yet just months after a victorious Obama took office, Republicans pounced on his effort to close Gitmo.
Yet this look back to 2012 is instructive in this respect: There was little disagreement -- from Democrats or Republicans -- about the potential consequences of Syria's use of chemical weapons.
First published September 5 2013, 10:21 AM