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The Boston Globe

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Cross this line... and I’m gonna do nothing!

The strange truth about ultimatums

On June 14, 10 months after President Obama declared that Bashar Assad would cross a “red line” if he used chemical weapons against rebels or civilians in Syria, Obama moved to make good on his threat. After American officials confirmed that Assad had indeed deployed chemical weapons, Obama announced that the United States would begin arming rebel groups against the regime.

This came as a huge relief to many critics and observers—not just those worried about Syria in particular, but those who simply feared what it would mean for Obama not to follow through on his words. If a president threatens action, they said, he needs to back it up. “The credibility of the United States is on the line,” Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham argued in April, “not just with Syria, but with Iran, North Korea, and all of our enemies and friends who are watching closely to see whether the president backs up his words with action.” Anne-Marie Slaughter, a high-ranking State Department official during Obama’s first term, wrote in The Washington Post, “U.S. credibility is on the line....[Obama] should understand the deep and lasting damage done when the gap between words and deeds becomes too great to ignore.”

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