This is a bit far afield for the FutureOfCapitalism, but worth mentioning as an example of the power of the press to push or pull a president through an oddly worded question that contains certain assumptions. President Obama did a brief question and answer session with the press on Monday, and NBC News's Chuck Todd asked a question that said in part:
Mr. President, could you update us on your latest thinking of where you think things are in Syria, and in particular, whether you envision using U.S. military, if simply for nothing else, the safe keeping of the chemical weapons, and if you're confident that the chemical weapons are safe?
Mr. Obama answered, in part:
I have, at this point, not ordered military engagement in the situation. But the point that you made about chemical and biological weapons is critical. That's an issue that doesn't just concern Syria; it concerns our close allies in the region, including Israel. It concerns us. We cannot have a situation where chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people.
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. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.
Q So you're confident it's somehow under -- it's safe?
THE PRESIDENT: In a situation this volatile, I wouldn't say that I am absolutely confident. What I'm saying is we're monitoring that situation very carefully. We have put together a range of contingency plans. 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. That would change my calculations significantly.
Whatever chemical weapons are in Syria are not "safe," the premise of Mr. Todd's question seems to suggest. They're in the hands of Bashar Assad, who is a brutal dictator. Mr. Obama's statement that "We cannot have a situation where chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people" is strange, because the weapons are already in the hands of the wrong person, Bashar Assad. (One might add, as well, that what matters isn't whether the chemical weapons are safe, but whether the local populations are safe from being attacked with them.)
This is all of more than theoretical interest because in 2002, Ariel Sharon, then Israel's prime minister, said publicly that Saddam Hussein was moving his chemical and biological weapons into Syria from Iraq. And in December 2005, Moshe Yaalon, then a retired Israeli general, told me that Saddam Hussein had transferred his chemical weapons to Syria six weeks before America began Operation Iraqi Freedom. General Yaalon is now the vice prime minister of Israel and its minister of strategic affairs.