Boxed in By Red Lines

Though I’m supposed to be on vacation, I’ve been trying to figure out how to write about Obama’s “red line” regarding chemical warfare. I’ve suspected that he was actually trying to send a signal that he didn’t want to get involved, as Digby notes (far more succinctly than I would have):

From all reports, Obama has been reluctant to get into Syria from the beginning. He obviously bet that by declaring a Red Line he could intimidate the players in Syria not to cross it and risk the US getting involved. He lost that bet and now he’s faced with following though on a threat to do something he really doesn’t want to do. That happens.

I agree with Digby that Obama gambled, but I disagree with the target of the Red Line language. There are a lot of entrenched bureaucratic powers in Washington, at State, the Pentagon, and the intelligence agencies, not to mention the incessant Republican opposition which have supported and are invested in the Syrian opposition. I think the Red Line language was primarily for domestic consumption–it was a way to (hopefully) take Syrian intervention off the table without having to directly confront these entrenched powers.

If he directly came out and said that the U.S. was going to reverse its support for the Syrian opposition–which has existed since 2006, including arms since 2007–he would have faced considerable opposition within the Executive Branch. And Republicans, despite their current opposition, would have accused him of ‘being weak on Syria.’

He tried to finesse it, and, as Digby pointed out, he got burned. So now we’re left with overblown denunciations, rather than an assessment of what is in U.S. policy interests (which does include limiting the use of chemical weapons).

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1 Response to Boxed in By Red Lines

  1. Dbp says:

    Could you do a post on why chemical weapons are worse than conventional ones? I think it’s an intriguing question and one I don’t really have an answer to. I mean, is Sarin worse than a thermobaric bomb which, according to what I have read, can destroy lungs and eyes without killing someone right away? Why is sarin worse than having your legs blown off or being killed by an infected shrapnel wound?

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