Obama’s "Red-Line" Syria Rhetoric Was Irresponsible

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Columnist questions wisdom of President Obama's "Redline" remarks

[The Syrian Conflict]

On August 20, 2012 President Obama said: “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized…That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”

It is now generally accepted as fact that on August 21, 2013 a nerve agent, probably sarin gas, was used on the Syrian civilian population. According to Dr. Bart Janssens, from Doctors Without Borders,  the "reported symptoms of the patients, in addition to the epidemiological pattern of the events – characterized by the massive influx of patients in a short period of time, the origin of the patients, and the contamination of medical and first aid workers – strongly indicate mass exposure to a neurotoxic agent…convulsions, excess saliva, pinpoint pupils, blurred vision and respiratory distress…”What is not known is who is responsible for the chemical attack.

The United States has placed the blame on the Assad regime. President Obama said the US has "presented a powerful case that the Syrian government was responsible for this attack on its own people. Our intelligence shows the Assad regime and its forces preparing to use chemical weapons, launching rockets in the highly populated suburbs of Damascus, and acknowledging that a chemical weapons attack took place.”

Other credible sources believe that the case against the Assad regime is not quite, as former CIA director George Tenet once said, erroneously, about WMD’s in Iraq, a “slam dunk”. 

According to the Times of Israel, “The intelligence linking Syrian President Bashar Assad or his inner circle to an alleged chemical weapons attack that killed at least 100 people is no 'slam dunk,' with questions remaining about who actually controls some of Syria’s chemical weapons stores and doubts about whether Assad himself ordered the strike, US intelligence officials say.”

There are conflicting perceptions of reality and requisite action or response. 

President Obama claims that chemical weapons have been used; the US claims that it has evidence that the Assad regime used them; ergo military intervention --airstrikes-- must be the response by the “International Community.”

Other countries such as Germany, Russia, China, and Britain agree that chemical weapons have been used but don’t agree that the US “evidence” that Assad used them is as conclusive as Washington claims.  Also, other countries don’t agree that even if Assad used chemical weapons a military response is best.  A military response could actually exacerbate the situation not make it better.

President Obama has said a number of times that the “world” is aghast at the use of chemical weapons. He called the Syrian attack a "challenge to the world". He is also claiming that he did not set the “red-line.” In Sweden he stated, ‘‘I didn’t set a red line, the world set a red line" and added the "world set a red line when governments representing 98 percent of world population said the use of chemical weapons are abhorrent.’’

First question, when did the American government, when did President Obama become the spokesperson for the world?

Second question, if the world is so aghast at this attack why is most of the “world” against American intervention into the Syrian Civil War?  Is it possible that the “world” does not equate their interests with American interests?

It is important to understand that the Syrian “rebels” are not a monolith. There are a number of factors, some political, religious, and cultural that are motivating different groups to engage in war against Assad. Also, within those factors are various actors that have different if not conflicting motivations.

It is possible that defectors from the Assad regime have given access to chemical stockpiles to certain rebel forces. It is possible that al-Qaeda affiliated forces have used chemical weapons with the hope of drawing the US into the conflict.  With US intervention in the conflict it becomes an easier recruiting tool for al-Qaeda affiliated forces. These are just a few examples of why the “world” is not so quick to cast their lots with US action.

One of the factors driving President Obama is the fact that he has backed himself into a corner with his own irresponsible rhetoric. He never should have used the term “red- line” to begin with. Just as the adage is “don’t pull a gun on a person unless you are prepared to use it” there is also an adage in diplomatic circles: “don’t draw a line in the sand unless you are prepared to take action if it is crossed.”

Now that President Obama has injected the “red-line” into the Syrian Civil War and if he fails to act; what does that say about his “red-line” with Iran?  The Israeli newspaper Haaretz has laid this out very clearly, “A president cannot commit his nation to a red line if he is also committed to securing congressional approval before responding to the crossing of that red line. What if Congress denies approval? Must the president still keep his red line commitment? If he does not, what does this say about other red line commitments, such as that made regarding Iran’s efforts to secure nuclear weapons?”

It was also irresponsible for President Obama to say, “I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets… But having made my decision as Commander-in-Chief based on what I am convinced is our national security interests… I've made a second decision:  I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people's representatives in Congress.”

That’s not a “decision” that’s inconsistent muttering and doublespeak.The Syrian Civil War is a perilous situation. This is not the time for inconsistent and dangerous rhetoric.  President Obama continues to talk in the “world” context but the longer this plays out the more it looks like he’s going to have to go it alone. 

He has indicated that he is prepared to do that; the problem is he will go it alone at our expense.

Dr. Wilmer Leon is the Producer/Host of the Sirius/XM Satellite radio channel 110 call-in talk radio program “Inside the Issues with Leon” or email: wjl3us@yahoo.com www.twitter.com/drwleon and Dr. Leon’s Prescription at Facebook.com

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