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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 us 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.


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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 us 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.

30 review for Red Line: The Unraveling of Syria and America's Race to Destroy the Most Dangerous Arsenal in the World

  1. 5 out of 5

    Malia

    Though this is not an easy read, it's one I would certainly recommend to anyone interested in what has been happening in Syria in the past decade or foreign relations in general. I was impressed by Joby Warrick's previous book, Black Flags, and eager to read this one, because I knew he would approach it with with meticulous research and a human and thoughtful touch. He did not disappoint. I know this one will stay with me for some time to come, and certainly made me think about a conflict that s Though this is not an easy read, it's one I would certainly recommend to anyone interested in what has been happening in Syria in the past decade or foreign relations in general. I was impressed by Joby Warrick's previous book, Black Flags, and eager to read this one, because I knew he would approach it with with meticulous research and a human and thoughtful touch. He did not disappoint. I know this one will stay with me for some time to come, and certainly made me think about a conflict that sadly is far from resolved. Find my book reviews and more at http://www.princessandpen.com

  2. 4 out of 5

    Steven Z.

    In his presidential memoir A PROMISED LAND Barack Obama does not reveal much about his thinking when it came to events in Syria other than that “our options were painfully limited…and Assad could count on Russia to veto any efforts we might make to impose international sanctions through the U.N. Security Council.” This was the conundrum the US faced as it approached how to deal with the slaughter that was Syria since the Arab spring in 2011; a president who was seemingly obsessed with the fear W In his presidential memoir A PROMISED LAND Barack Obama does not reveal much about his thinking when it came to events in Syria other than that “our options were painfully limited…and Assad could count on Russia to veto any efforts we might make to impose international sanctions through the U.N. Security Council.” This was the conundrum the US faced as it approached how to deal with the slaughter that was Syria since the Arab spring in 2011; a president who was seemingly obsessed with the fear Washington could be drawn into another war in the Middle East, and who if any of the rebel groups the US could rely on and not face blowback if Assad were overthrown. Eventually President Obama announced his “red line” warning that if Assad continued to employ nerve agents in the Syrian civil war it would be a game changer for the US. The warning that was issued on August 20, 2012 did not deter Assad and the American response was marginal at best. With twenty-twenty hindsight this was one of the worst decisions the Obama administration made in relation to the carnage that was Syria and its results have been catastrophic. In Obama’s defense had the US bombed Syria and taken out most of Assad’s chemical weapons would it have altered the war – we will never know. The decision-making surrounding American “red line” policy its impact, and the attempt to destroy Assad’s chemical “stash” throughout 2014 is the subject of an informative new book RED LINE: THE UNRAVELING OF SYRIA AND AMERICA’S RACE TO DESTROY THE MOST DANGEROUS ARSENAL IN THE WORLD by Pulitzer Prize winning Washington Post reporter Joby Warrick which takes a microscope to American decision-making and the diplomatic and military policies pursued to try and obviate the horrors that the Assad regime was perpetrating. Warrick’s effort is more than a narrative history of events sprinkled with keen analysis of the players and policies involved, but more a true to life thriller with a cast of characters that includes world leaders, physicians, weapons hunters, spies, and a number of heroes and villains. Warrick’s account begins with the introduction of a CIA spy whose nomenclature was Ayman, “the chemist,” a Syrian scientist who informed his handlers that Damascus had constructed an efficient manufacturing center with a network of laboratories that had produced 1300-1500 tons of binary sarin, VX, and mustard gas. Warrick lays out the issue of nerve agents produced by Syria and its implication for US policy makers. The author’s approach is methodical as he examines all areas that impacted the Syrian weapons cache and what the US should and could do to mitigate the problem. Once Assad employed nerve agents dropping three canisters on the city of Sarageb held by rebels who fought for overthrowing the Syrian regime on April 29, 2013, President Obama response had done little to deter Damascus. By 2012 Syria had become the most dangerous place on earth and after the April 2013 attack the US and the UN began to work on providing evidence for Assad’s WMD crimes. Warrick introduces a series of important characters into the narrative who are pivotal to his story. UN Team Leader Ake Sellstrom, who had experience hunting WMD in Iraq in the 1990s was sent to Syria and found evidence that military grade sarin gas had been used. The list includes Andrew C. Weber, the Pentagon’s Assistant Secretary for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs who feared that should Assad be overthrown his 1300 nerve agents could fall into the hands of the al Nusra Front and its ally al-Qaeda in Iraq (which would soon morph into the Islamic State). Timothy Blades, an ingenious individual who headed the US Civilian Chemical Biological Application and Risk Reduction team developed a process referred to as “hydrolysis” and the machinery to carry out the task of breaking down and making Assad’s nerve agents inert should the US come into possession of them. Dr. Houssam Alnahhas, also known as “Chemical Hazem,” as he prepared areas of Syria for possible chemical attacks and worked to save victims of those attacks. Samantha Powers, the US Ambassador to the United Nations who worked tirelessly to hold Assad responsible for the atrocities he ordered but she was up against Russian and Chinese vetoes, but her work cannot be ignored as she was able to create the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) under the auspices of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical weapons headquartered in the Hague. By 2017 JIM’s work continued as it investigated another Syrian nerve strike against the town of Khan Sheikhoun. Lastly, Brett McGurk, the special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter ISIS. McGurk was the last American official to witness the Syrian conflict in its entirety,” from the earliest pro-democracy uprisings through the rise of ISIS; from the regime’s first experimental use of sarin to the dramatic; if incomplete, mission to destroy Syria’s stockpile; from the hopeful declaration that ‘Assad must go’ to the despairing reality of an entrenched Syrian dictatorship propped up by Russian and Iranian protector’s intent on reshaping the region in their own image.” (303) There are many other important players in the narrative, many of which must be given credit for the eventual destruction of much of Assad’s nerve WMD, and those who were a hinderance and supported Assad outright. Warrick description of a UN investigation led by Sellstrom and Scott Cairns his Canadian Deputy reflected Syrian obstructionism. However, while in Damascus their group witnessed the results of a chemical attack that killed at least 1400 in the Ghouta suburbs. Warrick’s connections and knowledge allowed him to describe in detail the components of the WMD, its impact on the civilian population, Syrian governments obfuscation, and what the world was prepared to do about what was occurring in Syria. Everyone points to the Obama administration for its almost “feckless” response to Assad’s actions. Warrick correctly points out that the Obama administration in part placed itself in a bind in its response. Obama, keen to avoid a major military commitment in the Middle East decided that he needed Congressional approval for any military response. After the events in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001 there was little or no support in Congress. Further, Germany’s Angela Merkel warned Obama that the US should not act and wait until the UN investigation had run its course. In England, Prime Minister David Cameron could not convince Parliament to support military action, and lastly many feared what could happen to the UN team still in Syria. Facing congressional humiliation Obama was saved in part by the Russians who agreed to force Assad to turn over his nerve agents to UN authorities. Warrick clearly explains how the deal came about and its implications for the future. The Russians would go along with practically everything assuming that Blades’ “Margarita Machine” was a fantasy that could only fail thereby embarrassing the US. Warrick’s account of how the “Blades’ Machine” was built, tested, and deployed is well conceived and easy to understand. He follows the politics behind the strategy, the actual obstacles overcome particularly those set by the Syrians, and its ultimate deployment. This section of the book is perhaps the most important for the reader as Warrick builds the tension as if writing a novel that in the end would produce a mission at sea where the machines were bolted to the decks of the ship Cape Ray, deployed to the Mediterranean Sea to receive the nerve agents from the Syrian port of Latakia, run the nerve agents through Blades’ process, and then deliver the waste to cooperating countries. Warrick employs a reporter’s eye to describe the political difficulties, delays, and roadblocks on the ground as the UN Mission tried to secure the nerve agents and even after the mission was a success one wonders how it was achieved. For Blades and others, it came down to ingenuity, sheer guts, and a great deal of luck. The entire process became a race to keep the nerve agents out of Islamist hands. This became an even greater problem when on July 14, 2014, the day the ship sailed into the Mediterranean, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced from Mosul the creation of the Islamic Caliphate that stretched from Raqqa its capital in Central Syria deep into Iraq. ISIS would miss out on Assad’s nerve agents, but began a developing a process of their own, particularly when Assad set the example by dropping barrel bombs loaded with chlorine gas which is less toxic than sarin on his subjects. Graeme Wood is dead on when he writes in the February 19, 2021 edition of the Washington Post: “Overwhelmingly, Warrick’s emphasis is where it should be, on Assad, for whom chemical weapons were a highly developed and strategic program of terror. “Syrians died every day from bullets, blast wounds, and shrapnel injuries,” Warrick writes, “but to exterminate human beings with chemicals, as though they were fleas and cockroaches” — this was “a different order of savagery.” Lacking any legitimate military purpose, Assad’s chemical weapons existed to terrorize civilian populations by killing as indiscriminately as possible. Eliminating his arsenal was therefore a top international priority.” It is clear today that the Syrian Civil War continues to torture millions of Syrians in Syria and in refugee camps in the Middle East and Turkey. While the US concentrated on ISIS for the next two years its policies would allow Russia and Hezbollah, Syria’s Iranian ally to route many of the rebels and keep Assad in power. According to Warrick Assad would engage in over 300 chemical attacks over the next four years. It does not take a serious imagination to believe that Assad, who turned over tons of nerve agents to the UN kept a secret stash somewhere. Once the Trump administration came aboard and abruptly ended aid to the rebels and abandoned our Kurdish allies to be destroyed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğanit it was obvious that Putin had won and Iran’s goal of a “land bridge” across the Levant was in reach – Assad had won. Warrick is to be commended for his research, clear and thoughtful writing, and describing for all to see what the truth is concerning Assad’s nerve gas war on his own people. Perhaps someday he and his enablers will be held accountable by the world community – but I doubt it.

  3. 4 out of 5

    John R

    Excellent analysis of Syria tragedy, free of political bias. Investigative reporting at its finest - truly a magnificent book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ralph Santos

    Betrayal, Courage and Failure in response to Assad’s Use of Chemical Weapons An eye opening account of the betrayal of the Syrian people by all of the major players in the Middle East, the courage of many individuals to bring the atrocities to light and finally the failure of the UN, the United States and the West to stand up to Assad, Russia and Iran.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Josh

    For me, since reading Black Flags, Joby Warrick's books are Must-Reads. I try to stay in touch with what is happening in the world (International Relations major), but I've been wanting to know more about what has been happening in Syria over the last decade. It's such a tragedy. I'm so sad for all the Syrians that have had their lives uprooted and have had to endure such atrocities over the last nine and a half years. I'm grateful for Mr. Warrick's reporting on this. Also, amazed by all of the For me, since reading Black Flags, Joby Warrick's books are Must-Reads. I try to stay in touch with what is happening in the world (International Relations major), but I've been wanting to know more about what has been happening in Syria over the last decade. It's such a tragedy. I'm so sad for all the Syrians that have had their lives uprooted and have had to endure such atrocities over the last nine and a half years. I'm grateful for Mr. Warrick's reporting on this. Also, amazed by all of the brave people out there, dedicating their lives to try and make the world safer.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Linnaea

    A good review of part of the Syrian Civil War and ISIS. Warrick breaks down the chemical weapon usage pulling from lots of sources, interviews, the UN, and American politicians and he also informs about the collecting of chemical weapons.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Gerald M. Taylor

    This is a book that is almost impossible to put down. From beginning to end it is a gripping history of the use and control of war gasses in the Syrian area over a number of years, including the actions of U.S. Presidents from Bush II through Trump. Included is information of the development of war gasses, their results, and disposal, all in a readable form. I can't recommend it more highly. This is a book that is almost impossible to put down. From beginning to end it is a gripping history of the use and control of war gasses in the Syrian area over a number of years, including the actions of U.S. Presidents from Bush II through Trump. Included is information of the development of war gasses, their results, and disposal, all in a readable form. I can't recommend it more highly.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Antonio De Vido

    This book is helpful to understand the decade long war in Syria. Chemical weapons were manufactured in Syria and stockpiled in huge numbers. One victim was taken across the border to Turkey and that enabled European researcher to perform autopsy and eventually led to UN documentation of chemical weapons war crimes. Some of the chemical weapons labs and depots were finally destroyed in 2018 in a Coalition airstrike. There was no UN condemnation resolution of the Chemical weapons use by Syria. The This book is helpful to understand the decade long war in Syria. Chemical weapons were manufactured in Syria and stockpiled in huge numbers. One victim was taken across the border to Turkey and that enabled European researcher to perform autopsy and eventually led to UN documentation of chemical weapons war crimes. Some of the chemical weapons labs and depots were finally destroyed in 2018 in a Coalition airstrike. There was no UN condemnation resolution of the Chemical weapons use by Syria. The death toll in Syria has been estimated as 500k over the last decade, which is 136 people per day without any end in sight. Chemical and Biological warfare is illegal in the Geneva Convention.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Konet

    I knew a little about Syria's arsenal of weapons and its potential for mass destruction and casualties anywhere on the planet, but this explains in depth a bleak timeline of events. Some of the mundane details were a little dry but overall a very sobering account that can still be a threat. Recommended for anyone who likes nonfiction and global threats. I knew a little about Syria's arsenal of weapons and its potential for mass destruction and casualties anywhere on the planet, but this explains in depth a bleak timeline of events. Some of the mundane details were a little dry but overall a very sobering account that can still be a threat. Recommended for anyone who likes nonfiction and global threats.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Anne Hatchaway

    The story is powerful, I like how it was presented. Good job writer! If you have some great stories like this one, you can publish it on NovelStar, just submit your story to [email protected] or [email protected]

  11. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    A good deal of investigative work on America's attempt to relieve the world of the Assad regime and Warrick seems to have given it to us straight - perhaps not always pretty. A good deal of investigative work on America's attempt to relieve the world of the Assad regime and Warrick seems to have given it to us straight - perhaps not always pretty.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

    This is a compelling story about individuals doing their best on an individual basis during a bad, horrific, and tragic situation. But as a whole, the book informs me about nothing.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Cihan Kızılcık

    A good and readable story but ultimately lacks the depth and analysis. Could be the basis for a 3 hour Holywood movie but lacks the discussion of why things happened the way they did

  14. 4 out of 5

    P R Lewis

  15. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Martinez

  16. 4 out of 5

    marvin leedy

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lindsay Sausville

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kate

  19. 5 out of 5

    Christian James

  20. 4 out of 5

    C

  21. 4 out of 5

    R. L. Stevens

  22. 4 out of 5

    Colin Maloney

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jim Wightman

  24. 4 out of 5

    Stuart Ashenbrenner

  25. 5 out of 5

    David Durant

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jay

  27. 5 out of 5

    Chris Nelson

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jan

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

  30. 4 out of 5

    Dave Munch

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