Obama's 'red line' has become the international community's 'red line'

Clarifying his administration's "red line" policy, Barack Obama told reporters Tuesday that if Syria used chemical weapons against its citizens, it would represent a "game-changer not simply for the United States, but for the international community."

The tweaked wording is potentially important because it switches the emphasis from a red line that triggers U.S. action to a red line that triggers international action -- something a U.S. president is less capable of implementing unilaterally.

The point was punctuated twice during the White House press conference. Here's Obama (our emphasis added):

When I said the use of chemical weapons would be a game-changer, that wasn't a position unique to the United States, and it shouldn't have been a surprise.... The use of chemical weapons would be a game changer. Not simply for the United States, but for the international community. And the reason for that is we have established international law and international norms that say when you use these kinds of weapons you have the potential of killing massive numbers of people in the most inhumane way possible and the proliferation risks are so significant that we don't want the genie out of the bottle.

To some observers, these comments suggested that a U.S. response was dependent on a willingness of the international community to respond. Per Roll Call Senior Editor David Drucker:

The president is of course correct that other countries have drawn red lines when it comes to Syria's use of chemical weapons. But that doesn't guarantee a unified response. For instance: Just this morning Iran said it views the use of chemical weapons as a "red line." Russia too has directly warned Syria not to use chemical weapons. But given the two countries' support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (monetarily and militarily) it's almost inconceivable to imagine the three countries working together even with the presentation of clear proof that Assad used chemical weapons.

So what does the president even mean by "game-changer"?

"By game-changer I mean that we would have to rethink the range of options that are available to us," he said on Tuesday. "Obviously there are options to me that are on the shelf right now that we have not deployed." Take of that what you will. 


You can buy jihadi rap on iTunes, but is that a good thing?

I didn't think it would be hard to find "9 Disturbingly Good Jihadi Raps" online, but it was. There were, of course, the stylings of al-Shabab's rapper laureate, Omar Hammami, and the music video for "Dirty Kuffar," which was designed to go viral on social media sites like YouTube and Dailymotion.

But the most professional-sounding jihadi raps weren't on YouTube or SoundCloud -- they were tracks off M-Team's album "Clash of Civilizations." And to listen to them, I bought the songs on iTunes. They're also available for download from Amazon.com and Google Play, and they can be listened to on Spotify.

M-Team (that's short for Mujahideen Team) offered some bold thoughts about violent jihad in their debut album:

SPOKEN: Today is the day of retribution!
Today is the day of jihad!
Today is the day of victory or martyrdom,
so all you who believe, raise your hand and ready your weapons...

SUNG: Bust your weapons, take off oppression,
take their lives and right-hand possessions,
snatch a politician out the election,
give him injections, lethal infections...
The revolution, kaffir execution,
the true solution, the day of retribution!

"It's certainly very provocative," Rolling Stone associate editor Simon Vozick-Levinson told me when I asked him what he thought of it. "Rap and hip hop in particular are effective ways of getting a message out to a broader audience. If you have a strong conviction, putting it to a catchy beat is a good way to get your message across. To a Western audience, it's going to be pretty shocking."

It's also hardly the first time music has encouraged violence. And it's not just rap; before songs like "Cop Killer" and "Fuck tha' Police" in the early 1990s, there were controversies over groups like Black Sabbath and Twisted Sister. But is there a point where musicians go too far for mainstream music outlets?

Graham James, a spokesman for Spotify, said they were looking into M-Team's work and pointed out that Spotify, in its company policy, "reserve[s] the right to remove content that, in Spotify's opinion, is likely to incite hatred or discrimination of any kind, be that race, religion, sexuality or otherwise, or content that is deemed offensive, abusive, defamatory, illegal, pornographic or obscene in anyway." But he also expressed concern about using the policy for anything other than exceptional circumstances. "It's a very slippery slope. If you start taking down things you find objectionable, where do you ultimately draw that line?" he told FP. (Representatives from iTunes did not respond to requests for comment.)

Vozick-Levinson agrees: "Artists test boundaries, like Ice-T's song 'Cop Killer.' But that song didn't lead to an epidemic of violence; that song is a work of art. Time has shown that censorship isn't the answer. The better choice is to discuss these things and why they're objectionable rather than try to censor them."

And its worth noting that, like Ice-T, who went from rapping about shooting cops to playing a detective on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, M-Team took a decidedly more moderate tone in their sophomore album, "My Enemy's Enemy." As Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and jihadi rap critic, described it on Twitter, "M-Team's later deviations diminish their jihadi cred. Kind of like how Katy Perry's later music diminishes the credibility of her early work as a gospel singer."