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From the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Black Flags, the thrilling unknown story of America’s mission in Syria: to find and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons and keep them out of the hands of the Islamic State
In August 2012, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad was clinging to power in a vicious civil war. When secret intelligence revealed that the dictator might resort to using chemical weapons, President Obama warned that doing so would cross “a red line.” Assad did it anyway, bombing the Damascus suburb of Ghouta with sarin gas, killing hundreds of civilians and forcing Obama to decide if he would mire America in another unpopular Middle Eastern war. When Russia offered to broker the removal of Syria’s chemical weapons, Obama leapt at the out.
So begins an electrifying race to find, remove, and destroy 1,300 tons of chemical weapons in the midst of a raging civil war. The extraordinary little-known effort is a triumph for the Americans, but soon Russia’s long game becomes clear: it will do anything to preserve Assad’s rule. As America’s ability to control events in Syria shrinks, the White House learns that ISIS, building its caliphate in Syria’s war-tossed territory, is seeking chemical weapons for itself, with an eye to attacking the West.
Red Line is a classic Joby Warrick true-life thriller: a character-driven narrative with a cast of heroes and villains, including weapons hunters, politicians, doctors, diplomats, and spies. Drawing on astonishing original reporting, Warrick reveals how the United States embarked on a bold adventure to prevent one catastrophe but could not avoid a tragic chain of events that empowered America’s enemies.
Pulitzer winner Warrick (Black Flags) explores America's scramble to neutralize war-torn Syria's chemical weapons in this vigorous true-life thriller. Warrick traces the decadeslong buildup of the Syrian government's chemical weapons stockpile; its sporadic use against rebels, including a 2013 sarin attack near Damascus that may have killed 1,429 people; the American diplomatic push after President Obama called chemical attacks a "red line" that Syria's government must not cross that yielded an agreement to destroy the country's "declared" stockpile; its shipboard destruction in 2014 by a portable hydrolysis device nicknamed the "Margarita Machine" by "a Pentagon wag"; and later chemical weapons programs and chlorine-gas attacks by ISIS militants. Warrick balances harrowing reports of poisoned children dying of paralysis and asphyxiation with vibrant character sketches of Syrian spies and medical workers, UN chemical-weapons investigators braving sniper fire, and American engineers facing toxic spills, hostile environmentalist flotillas, and the possible capsizing of their ship. The focus on chemical weapons somewhat obscures the much larger toll of death and destruction taken by conventional weapons in Syria, but Warrick delivers a comprehensive and electric tale. Espionage fans and military history buffs will be enthralled.