In Red Line, Joby Warrick, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Black Flags, shares 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 war in the Middle East. When Russia offered to broker the removal of Syria’s chemical weapons, Obama leapt at the out.
So began 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 attack the West. Drawing on astonishing original reporting, Warrick crafts a character-driven narrative that reveals how the United States embarked on a bold adventure to prevent one catastrophe but could not avoid a tragic chain of events that led to another.
About the Author
JOBY WARRICK has been a reporter for The Washington Post since 1996. He has twice won the Pulitzer Prize, for journalism and for his book Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS. He is also the author of The Triple Agent.
“A nonfiction thriller.” —The Washington Post
“Excellent.” —The Independent (London)
“[A] highly readable and well-sourced work, a bleak but real-life thriller.” —The Guardian
“A detailed look at an excruciating moment for Syria, the United States, and the world—the time in 2013 when the United States concluded that Syria’s government had used chemical weapons in its long-running civil war.” —Morning Edition, NPR
“[An] engrossing account of chemical warfare in the Syrian civil war. . . . [A] gripping investigation of the challenges of Middle East politics.” —Library Journal (starred review)
“Red Line can grip as tightly as any thriller.” —Hugh Hewitt, The Washington Post
“Red Line is a forensic examination of the moral culpability of the Assad government and its Russian backers . . . Warrick combines the novelist’s gift for storytelling with the journalist’s gift for hard research.” —The Tablet
“[An] electric tale.” —Publishers Weekly
“The virtue of Warrick’s book is that it provides a panoramic reconstruction of the  chemical attack and its aftermath. We see it from the eyes of survivors, doctors, activists, disarmament experts, diplomats, and policymakers. The book cuts from scenes on the ground in Eastern Ghouta, to the U.N. inspectors in Damascus, to National Security Council meetings in the White House, telling the story with urgency and clarity.” —Newlines Magazine
“An unsettling look at the extraordinarily brutal civil war that has engulfed Syria since 2011. . . . Warrick delivers a vivid account.” —Kirkus Reviews
“A valuable addition to the growing literature on the war in Syria. . . . The book includes . . . compelling accounts with characters ranging from UN weapons inspectors and Syrian doctors to Islamic State operatives planning their own chemical attacks. In Warrick’s hands, their experiences come alive.” —The National Interest
“Lively and easily accessible . . . [Red Line] contains powerful material that should serve as a warning to us all.” —The New Arab
“[President Biden] may wish to read Joby Warrick’s Red Line. . . . [It] has important implications for countering proliferation.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Riveting. . . . Warrick’s vivid portraits of so many of the diverse individuals involved, from victims to American engineers and U.N. investigators, provide a devastating perspective on the civil war in Syria.” —The National Book Review
“The power of Warrick’s account derives from his exceptional ability to tell the Syrian disarmament story through the lives of individuals. . . . At the basic human level, Warrick lays bare two contrasting dimensions of the Syrian [chemical-weapons] story: resourcefulness and resilience—reflected in the brilliant solutions that the book’s protagonists, at the Syrian local level as much as in the U.S. government, developed to meet the [challenge]—but also the sheer suffering of those exposed to chemical attacks.” —The Nonproliferation Review
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