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Playing by the Rules: Obama, Syria, and Chemical Weapons

Muirhead Tower Room 417
Thursday 3 March 2016 (16:00-17:30)

Based on a forthcoming book, this talk examines President Barack Obama’s foreign policy on Syria in relation to chemical warfare. Chemical weapons have defined the US response to the crisis. While the slaughter of hundreds of thousands by conventional means has done little to involve the US, Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical arms inspired Obama to call for airstrikes and has underpinned calls for greater engagement in the conflict. In discussing how this became the cornerstone of US foreign policy on Syria, the paper argues that Obama’s rhetorical construction of the taboo (manifest in his now infamous redline) was not simply a commitment to eliminating these weapons, but also the strategic exploitation of normative ideals surrounding chemical arms in order to directly shape policy. Obama manipulated pre-existing perceptions of chemical weapons as taboo to construct policy in line with his own political ambitions, explicitly to bring about a multilateral solution and force the international community to take responsibility for solving the crisis.

Speaker: Dr Michelle Bentley is Lecturer in International Relations at Royal Holloway, University of London.

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