On the afternoon of August 31, 2013, French Rafale fighter jets bristled on their runways, readied for war. As far as French President Francois Hollande was concerned, D-Day had arrived; at 3 a.m. his planes would begin air strikes against missile batteries and command centers of the Syrian Army’s 4th Armored Division — the Syrian military’s most trusted military unit, and the one in charge of chemical weapons.

The reason: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had crossed U.S. President Barack Obama’s “red line” when, just 10 days earlier, he had apparently used chemical weapons in Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, against the rebels battling him and the civilians who, as usual, bore the brunt of Assad’s fury. According to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, it was the regime’s third — and deadliest — use of sarin gas to date. Now it was time to for the United States and its allies to make good on the president’s word.

But at the last minute, Obama called Hollande to tell him the strikes were off; he would instead seek the backing of Congress before any military action was taken. It was support he most likely knew he would not get; at nearly the last possible moment, he had changed course.


Read the whole story from Radio Free Europe.