Backing Away From the Syrian “Red Line”

Right From the Start

Right From the Start

On March 21, 2013, President Barack Obama stated without reservation:

“We will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people, or the transfer of those weapons to terrorists.”

Most everyone who has watched Mr. Obama make and break one promise after another knew that it was just him saying what he thought others wanted to hear with no real commitment to actually undertake the promise. That declaration joins a long list of others:

    • Close Gitmo
    • Eliminate prisoner rendition
    • Minimize abortions
    • Reduce healthcare costs
    • Withdraw from Iraq
    • Prohibit the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran

With the discovery this past week that President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons on his own people – not once, not twice but at least three different times – we are now witnessing Mr. Obama retreat again. But this time, at least for me, it is different.

In January of 2011, Mark Lynch coined the term “Arab Spring” in an article for the Foreign Policy Journal. It was a fanciful reference to a wave of revolutionary actions in the Middle East said to be a quest for democracy over tribal and religious feudalism practiced by a succession of dictators, religious zealots and historic monarchies.

Before the ink was dry on the paper, Mr. Obama had fully embraced the notion. But the Arab Spring has proved to be illusionary. In reality we have seen a series of ruthless and homicidal dictators and monarchists replaced by a series of equally ruthless and homicidal religious zealots. The only commonality in this transition is that each succeeding oppressive regime seems to hate the United States even more than the preceding oppressive regime.

Despite Mr. Obama’s “charm offensive”, his “apology tour” and his steadfast refusal to link terrorism with Islamic fundamentalism, the United States is hated more and feared less in the Middle East than at any other time in our history. We have already sacrificed the lives of thousands of young Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan – not in pursuit of securing our own nation from an actual threat but rather in a vain attempt to “nation build.” It was begun by President George W. Bush and continued unabated by Mr. Obama. We are attempting to instill the difficult practice of democracy on areas of the world that have progressed little since the tribal feudalism of 7th Century.

In this world, the Sunnis hate the Shia and vice versa. The only time they find common cause is in hating the West as typified by the United States – the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Even within each of the major religious divisions there are those who promulgate hate and violence on a greater scale. The Sunnis have given us the Wahhabi movement which teaches hate, intolerance and violence in schools throughout SouthWest Asia. And the Shia have given us the mullahs of Iran who practice that same hate, intolerance and violence upon their own people.

And all of this is playing out once again in Syria. There are a series of revolutionists in Syria that seek to oust – probably execute – Mr. Assad. It is difficult to tell one faction from another. Mr. Assad follows the Shia tradition and has repressed the Sunnis who make up a substantial part of the revolutionists. But amongst those revolutionists are those seeking democracy, those seeking radical Islam, and those just seeking power. Affiliates of al Qaeda have a foothold in the leadership of these revolutionaries. With the exception of those seeking democracy, they all hate the West equally and they all see the West as the purveyors of evil.

And that is what we are now being asked to step into once again because Mr. Obama has drawn a “red line” concerning the use of chemical warfare, The Senate Morons led by John McCain and Lindsay Graham are demanding action – probably not because they really care but more because this is another opportunity to score political points. Granted Mr. McCain was a legitimate war hero but that simply makes him a war hero and he can still be a dunce on international affairs – which he is.

There is no strategic advantage for the United States that justifies the sacrifice of the lives of our young men and women again. There are humanitarian aspects that should be respected but would be better served by having the Muslim world call these tyrants and miscreants to task. It may be appropriate for the United States as part of an international force to impose a “no fly” zone on Syria to eliminate the distinct advantage that Mr. Assad enjoys with his air force. But even that should be only as a part of a containment strategy to prevent the Syrian conflict from spilling over into neighboring Turkey, Jordan and Israel. If the Middle East wishes to engage in the continuing tribal warfare that has marked its existence for 1400 years, then let them.  Our focus should be on the aspects of such conflict that may endanger our country, its citizens and our allies – no more, no less.

So, if Mr. Obama wants to back away from his “red line” when it comes to Syria – for whatever suspect reason, it’s just fine with me.