The United States is now struggling with a pronouncement made by President Barack Obama concerning the use of chemicals in warfare by the Syrian government. Drawing a red line in the sand, Obama stated the employment of such weaponry would be a game changer and “there will be consequences” if it happens.
It happened. Syrian President Assad thumbed his nose. We did nothing. Now, we have a real problem.
Apparently, Washington assumed the Assad regime would get the message and retreat from such terrible weapons. When they did not, it made Washington’s tough talk sound cheap and at this point has damaged the credibility of the current government. The worst possibility is that both North Korea and Iran will make the same judgment and this sets the stage for a far more serious show down.
In a recent blog, I suggested that Israel is coming to the end of trusting in the Obama administration’s will to act. They will probably go it alone in striking Iran’s nuclear capabilities. The current problem with Syria’s use of chemicals further enflames this dangerous situation. If America doesn’t follow up on its statements about Syria, Israel certainly cannot depend on USA military force to stop Iran.
Obama’s bind is that a dictator who has killed at least 80,000 of his own people must go. American moral convictions stand behind such an action. Such logic was part of attacking Hussein in Iraq. On the other hand, the large majority of the citizenry are strongly opposed to another war and the economy cannot take another drain at this time. Consequently, Obama is in a “damned if you do; damned if you don’t” posture. For this exact reason, his drawing a red line now appears misguided.
One possibility is for America to act without getting soldiers in the war. The Pentagon has cyberattack capabilities that could blind Syrian air defenses. Such an attack would be from a significant distance with minimum involvement. In 2007, Israel attacked a suspected Syrian nuclear power plant. With a cyberattack system used to disable Syrians air defenses. The problem is that once the radar and computer systems strike, the Syrians can then develop malware to prevent another such assault. After such usage, the USA would have to redevelop its system. Is this an approach America wants to use at this time? Maybe not.
Of course, another problem with red lines is that they can be crossed in unanticipated ways that do appear to violate the warning. For example, with Hezbollah reigning supreme in Lebanon, chemical weapons could be passed on to them. While this has not happened yet, it suggests another highly dangerous possibility.
In my opinion, the Obama administration should have had an attack plan in place and ready to be used before making red line statements. They needed to have already determined how they would strike. Unless, they take some action quickly, Obama has been discredited in this situation. At this point, delay only serves to further the chaos and that means more people getting killed.