It used to be called drawing a line in the sand. You can go this far someone would say, and no farther. Political negotiations for territory produced maps and lines in red to mark borders. This is mine. That is yours. Today, establishing a red line equates to warning other nations or groups not to undertake certain actions—or else. But such a statement produces difficult questions like: Or else what?
The revolution in Syria has taken 93,000 lives—a figure of the verified dead according to the United Nations. For the White House, lives were an issue in the Syrian civil war but not the issue. President Obama drew his own red line some time ago. If the Assad government used chemical weapons, then the U.S. would be forced to intervene. Claims of chemical weapon use surfaced. The White House determined the evidence insufficient and let the matter lie—at least publicly. Ultimately, proof came. So now?
We’ll provide the rebels with small arms and ammunition. Anti-tank weapons, too, I imagine. At least, that’s the public position. Britain and France also will provide light arms. The Saudis, fighting a proxy war against Iran, have supplied shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles
More difficult questions remain: Who will end up with all this materiel? Can the West buy the loyalty of any group we support with weaponry? And will the next step be the establishment of a no-fly zone to keep Assad’s air force grounded—a move that Mr. Obama currently rejects and the Russians oppose?
Having backed themselves into a corner, President Obama and his advisors are flying blind. Whatever strategy they settle upon may work. Or not. An old Yiddish proverb comes to mind: Man plans and God laughs. We’re talking, after all, about the Middle East.
Speaking of God, former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin suggested—and the satirical intent doesn’t go unnoticed—“Let Allah sort it out.” Fatalism plays a large role in the Muslim psyche. Inshallah one hears frequently. God willing. What does God will? Sunni and Shiite extremists believe God wills the destruction of the other. Many Americans, I suspect, will be glad to let sectarian forces savage each other. Of course, much innocent blood will be spilled in the process.
One of the perks of writing a blog is the freedom to tell the world how it should act. Regarding Syria, I’ll pass. But this I do know. Talking about red lines works only until one is crossed. Without a real consequence, the red line bleeds into the sand along with a government’s credibility.
It’s very possible that Mr. Obama’s strategy will mirror Mrs. Palin’s. We’ll do the minimum to protect some Syrian civilians while keeping Assad and Iranian-backed Hezbollah forces off balance. At the same time, we’ll attempt to minimize the buildup of too much power by Sunni rebels and the al-Qaeda Islamists who make up much of their effective fighting force. This may be the best we can do.
But we might also consider that publicly declaring a red line risks creating a straight line to disaster.
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Read the first three chapters of David’s novels SAN CAFÉ and SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. You’ll also find online ordering links for iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.