Obviously, the Obama administration is retreating from its red line on Syria just as fast as can be managed while not looking panicky. It’s not that the unnamed Obama official in this New York Times article is necessarily wrong. It’s cynical in the extreme to dismiss the horror of chemical weapons being used, but the notion behind it — we shouldn’t intervene in Syria — is arguably the correct policy.
The problem with this statement and the actions of the administration since it became clear that President Assad had employed chemical weapons is the shockingly cavalier manner in which the president is willing to destroy the credibility of the United States by drawing a line that, when crossed, elicits no consequences whatsoever.
In a frenetic series of meetings, the White House devised a 48-hour plan to deter President Bashar al-Assad of Syria by using intermediaries like Russia and Iran to send a message that one official summarized as, “Are you crazy?” But when Mr. Obama emerged to issue the public version of the warning, he went further than many aides realized he would.
Moving or using large quantities of chemical weapons would cross a “red line” and “change my calculus,” the president declared in response to a question at a news conference, to the surprise of some of the advisers who had attended the weekend meetings and wondered where the “red line” came from. With such an evocative phrase, the president had defined his policy in a way some advisers wish they could take back.
Is this pathetic or what? The president, in as casual manner as can possibly be imagined, committed the credibility of the United States by giving an ill-considered, poorly thought out warning that took his own advisors by surprise.
“The idea was to put a chill into the Assad regime without actually trapping the president into any predetermined action,” said one senior official, who, like others, discussed the internal debate on the condition of anonymity. But “what the president said in August was unscripted,” another official said. Mr. Obama was thinking of a chemical attack that would cause mass fatalities, not relatively small-scale episodes like those now being investigated, except the “nuance got completely dropped.”
Assad, being considerably smarter than your average White House aide (or president), realized exactly that. Hence, he puts Obama in a bind; put up or shut up, Mr. President. Now the White House is retreating so swiftly that Assad might feel perfectly safe in blanketing Homs with a cloud of nerve gas. “What’s that got to do with you?” Assad might ask.
What are the consequences of having “Amateur Hour” refugees running our foreign policy?
As a result, the president seems to be moving closer to providing lethal assistance to the Syrian rebels, even though he rejected such a policy just months ago. American officials have even discussed with European allies the prospect of airstrikes to take out Syrian air defenses, airplanes and missile delivery systems, if government use of chemical weapons is confirmed.
So instead of having the U.S. look weak and vacillating, let’s give arms to the jihadists aligned with al-Qaeda! A scathingly brilliant idea, that. It will save them money when they turn those guns on whoever we’re backing when Assad is gone and the smoke clears.
It must be hard for Iran to reconcile the Great Satan making threats against Syria on the one hand, and seeing Mickey Mouse trying to get out from under the consequences of those threats on the other. Do you think Khamenei and his crew are breathing a little easier tonight? Israel can hurt them but only America could bomb them back to the stone age. The Iranian leadership knows that won’t happen now.
The problem with destroying your own credibility is that it’s extremely difficult to get it back. Why should North Korea or Iran take anything we say about “consequences” seriously? The answer is, they won’t — which makes the world a little more dangerous today than it was.