Red Line: The Unraveling of Syria and America’s Race To Destroy the Most Dangerous Arsenal in the World

Doubleday. Feb. 2021. 368p. ISBN 9780385544467. $29.95. POL SCI
In August 2012, President Barack Obama issued a red line challenge to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for his alleged use of biological and chemical weapons against Syrian citizens. The unkept promise to bomb Syrian military sites was arguably Obama’s greatest foreign policy failure, writes Warrick (Black Flags), a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, in this engrossing account of chemical warfare in the Syrian civil war. Assad and his rebel Islamic State foes unleashed sarin and chlorine nerve gases that resulted in 1,400 noncombatant deaths, mostly between 2013 and 2016. The author delves into declassified records and conducts 250 interviews to describe Syria’s destruction and how men, women, and children struggled to survive. Particular attention is devoted to the UN Joint Mission to uncover Syria’s hidden weapons and the challenges endured by the Cape Ray, the naval ship charged with destroying the nerve gasses on the open seas. Although Obama is held accountable for avoiding his own red line, he was constrained by Congress and a war-weary public.
VERDICT This gripping investigation of the challenges of Middle East politics will engage informed general readers and foreign policy specialists. See Samantha Power’s The Education of an Idealist for more insights into the Syrian civil war.
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