The Red Lines Debacle

30 Apr

Last week, the Obama administration stated that it had some confidence that sarin was used in Syria. This is quite significant, especially given the fact that President Obama has stated that the usage of chemical weapons would cross a red line. However, his choice of red lines has been counterproductive.

The regime of Bashar al-Assad has found numerous ways to circumvent President Obama’s red lines. For example, the regime has used warplanes and tanks to both destroy cities and kill civilians. In addition, its thugs have stabbed women and children and burned houses. None of the aforementioned tactics required the usage of chemical weapons. Moreover, the Obama administration has not taken any significant actions to end the conflict or to respond to the slaughter. To its credit, it has provided some non-lethal aid and training to some opposition groups. However, none of these actions have tipped the balance against the regime as the conflict remains a horrific stalemate.

Unfortunately, the situation in Syria and the region itself continues to worsen as the Obama administration and other world leaders continue their inaction. The human cost of the crisis has continued to increase each day, especially since as massacres continue in Syria. Over 70,000 people have been killed and Syria’s neighbors have been overwhelmed by the strains of providing for Syrian refugees. There has also been growing fears of regional spillover as rockets have hit Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel. In addition, there are also  concerns about the rise of the al-Nusra Front in Syria (It should, however, be noted that most opposition groups are moderate and extremists are a minority- not a majority- in Syria). Altogether, while the Obama administration may fear the risks of intervening in Syria,   the costs and consequences of inaction remain high and continue to increase daily. Instead of declaring red lines over chemical weapons, President Obama should have had red lines against the massive slaughter and humanitarian crisis.

Nonetheless, since President Obama’s red lines have been restricted to chemical weapons usage, he will likely continue a policy of inaction. Part of the reason for this is because the Bush administration used the false pretense of weapons of mass destruction to justify military action against Iraq. As a result, a high standard of proof has been set by the Obama administration. It is unlikely that such standards will be met in the near-future, especially given the fact that the Assad regime has refused to allow UN investigators to enter Syria to investigate the usage of chemical weapons. Therefore, President Obama will remain constrained by the very red lines that he has set for Syria. The Assad regime, however, will be emboldened by the constraints on President Obama. As explained by military analyst Joseph Holliday in Foreign Policy magazine, the regime has responded to inaction by continuing to massacre civilians and increase the violence used in its tactics. Overall, the longer the Obama administration refuses to take action against the regime, the worse the crisis will become. President Obama has chosen the wrong red lines for Syria.

(For an analysis of why an intervention in Syria would be feasible, click here).


UPDATE: The Washington Post has posted an article stating that the Obama administration is getting ready to send weapons to opposition groups. This would be a shift from its current policy of inaction. However, given the caution of the Obama administration, it is uncertain as to what types of weapons would be sent as well as the quantity. Until more information is provided, I will remain skeptical that a significant shift has occurred. 

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