The Red Line -Syria Then and Now

the red line big2


What I said then:

What is it with men? Do women draw “red lines”? I have never heard a woman draw such a line, a line in the sand, a line on the playground; a line which everyone understands means “cross this line and there are consequences”, physical consequences, unpleasant consequences (well maybe women do that with their offspring and their partners). Netanyahu drew a red line about nukes and Iran. This red line has not been crossed yet but Israel lives in the hood and is used to lobbing bombs at neighboring aggressors. Obama also drew a red line that implied America would punish Assad in Syria if he used chemical weapons against his own people. Is this a testosterone thing? But in the case of Assad, a totalitarian monster who will fight in the face of millions of refugees (his own people), and who will make them flee their own country; a little thing like a “red line” won’t stop a man like this. It acts like a red cape acts on a bull. But the red line has been drawn, the gauntlet has been laid down, and Assad has challenged Obama to a duel. Dueling has been illegal for a long, long time. A red line can be redrawn. That is one option. Just redraw the damn line. It doesn’t really matter if we look weak because we aren’t weak. It shows wisdom to be able to back down from a position when someone is baiting a trap, baiting a trap with dead children. How does a decent man beat a monster? He uses his brain, not his muscle.

What I say now:

Obama has been criticized again and again for not enforcing that red line. The Republicans have told America that the fact that we did not do something, some unknown ninja move, proves that Obama is weak and because he is our President it makes America look weak. It invites other nations to challenge us to see how wimpy we will be. But, realistically, short of war, what were Obama’s choices? Our soldiers were still traumatized by too many tours of duty in a row in Iraq. Americans had no taste for sending our guys into Syria to fight Assad. Assad’s government was and is backed by the power of Putin in Russia. Going to war with Assad could have been interpreted as an act of aggression against Russia, although I doubt that Putin wants an all-out war with America right now. Obama’s deal with Putin to make sure that Assad’s chemical weapons were destroyed was probably the best deal we could get at the time. Congress was busting Obama’s chops for being too involved in places like Egypt and Libya. He could not have pleased the GOP no matter what he decided to do. News sources are suggesting that not all of Assad’s chemical weapons were destroyed and that he may, in these late summer days of 2016 be using them again. I still like my suggestion from the days immediately after the red line was crossed.


What I said then:

If you can remember back far enough to remember the movie Dangerous Liaisons then I think we could find a way to register our deep, deep disapproval without lobbing bombs at a leader who is just waiting to have us lob bombs at him. (What if all hell breaks loose?) If you remember, in the movie, an aging countess (Glenn Close) had learned to use men as pawns to give to herself the independence and the power to well live without a husband. She had affairs, as many as she wanted and she manipulated the guilt and the fear of exposure the men felt in such a way that when she ended the affair, they found they could not tell. She lived above gossip and although women knew she was not quite the thing, they had no proof and she was accepted by society. Until she fell in love.

She sent that young man (John Malkovitch) on his way too, but as the film opens we meet a woman who is now showing her age. She is still handsome, but not beautiful. When that young man she fell in love with comes back and implies that he is still interested, she plays her last and most dangerous game, which she loses, rather badly. She still thinks that she has kept her secrets and has enough social cachet to go on. When she appears at the opera and everyone boos her, her reaction is visceral and I’m sure that from that time forward her social isolation is complete.

Maybe we could all; in every city and town all around the world, play, over very large loudspeakers,  at a certain time, like midnight at the Prime Meridian on Monday, a sound track of people booing with all of the loudspeakers pointed in the direction of Syria. I wonder if the sound would carry all the way to Syria. Then everyone in the world could turn his/her back on Assad and send Assad into a social isolation that would put him out of commission for the rest of his life. Now that would be retribution and it would feel really fine. I don’t imagine words or even world-wide condemnation could affect someone like that. You know what; I don’t even think bombs will do it.

Syria4What I think now:

Obviously we are way past the days when social shunning will put even a dent in the entitled arrogant man with the heart of granite who leads Syria. Here is a man who lives in bubble of comfort and privilege and who will not abdicate power even though his “kingdom” has been reduced to rubble around him and his “subjects” have had to flee or die. Here is a man whose every little hair on his smarmy head is glued in place and whose wardrobe costs more than it would take to feed the starving children in the nation that is unlucky enough to be ruled by this egomaniac. But what will finally oust this guy from his palace? Will we declare war on Assad and let the repercussions in Russia fall where they may? What if this becomes World War III and this time Russia is not on our side? I don’t know anyone who really thinks that we shouldn’t tread carefully, harden our hearts against letting grief and empathy dictate policy.

What I said then:

I don’t really know what Obama should do on behalf of America anymore than it sounds like anyone else does, but this situation seems to call out for a creative and global strategy. People who do monstrous things often have very hard shells.

What I think now:

If some of you think you have the perfect answer publish it so we can all see it and consider it. If, as I believe is true, no one is sure about how to handle Syria beyond what we are already doing, then our only choices are to continue to give Syrian refugees room to catch their breath and raise their children and to continue the air assault on Syria, the one that is further complicated by the presence of ISIS.

This is the view from the cheap seats.

This article appeared in my blog at on 8/30/2013. You can also find in the the archives on this site. It was called What is it with men?


Peaceful Coexistence or Escalation?

It is be very difficult for the American people to know what approach we should take in the Middle East. We have just ended one war that killed too many American soldiers, maimed too many others, and killed too many Iraqis also. We are still involved in another costly war where more American soldiers are dying or coming home with extreme injuries they must learn to live with. We haven’t exactly been appreciated in our role as “liberators” who saved Iraq and Afghanistan from what basically amounted to “domestic violence”; from an extreme leader in the case of Iraq and an extreme religious sect in the case of Afghanistan. Of course we were accidental “liberators” who interfered in domestic violence because it was spilling over into attacks on America and Europe, in increasingly escalating terrorist activities that we could not afford to ignore. We do seem to have bought ourselves a temporary lull in explosive attacks outside of the Middle East. How long this will last we cannot say as the hate that lies behind terrorist attacks does not seem to have abated.

Now, as we prepare to leave Afghanistan and amid the irony of having the troops we trained kill their trainers, we are facing new trials in the Middle East. In Libya our ambassador was murdered with malice, it seems, and in Syria we have an absolutely sorrowful mess, with innocent people dying every day and a leader basically committing genocide against his people in order to retain power. If Assad wins now, Syria will probably be locked down tighter than a maximum security prison. Egypt is now a Muslim nation and it is one of our greatest dilemmas right now to learn how to distinguish the extremists who hate America from the moderates who would be happy to try peaceful coexistence. And we have Iran, Iran, Iran, with a government that seems to enjoy taunting America and Israel and taking us all to the edge of war. I don’t know about you, but I am not a “hawk”. I do not want another war in the Middle East right now. We need some time to recoup from the last 11 years and more. We need to let the troops who fought so bravely retire to a more peaceful life with their families. We need to train up new troops who will be fresh and ready to go at some future date. Do we have any time to catch our breath? Will we have to come up with a strong response to the red line drawn by Israel in relation to Iran’s nuclear goals? Will we send a drone or do a pre-emptive strike? Will it be enough to almost send a drone or threaten to do a pre-emptive strike? What does Israel have in mind in response to the red line? I’m certain that if a stern response becomes absolutely necessary then America will do what it must.

Is there a quick way to end hostilities between American (and other western nations) and the Middle Eastern nations where terrorists find safe harbor to harry surrounding countries? Will it take decades to learn to share our crowded and suddenly small planet and to accept each others differences? We want to see families in the Middle East living ordinary lives in the home towns they love but with the rights they deserve.

As for why we don’t know why our President didn’t realize or didn’t share that the death of Chris Stevens in Libya was the result of a terrorist attack, I only know what we are told by news outlets. Was this situation set up to make Obama look clueless so close to the election? Anything is possible. Were our national security agencies guilty of withholding information? Why would they do this? Did Obama chose to ignore the intelligence for some reason? If so, what reason? We’ll probably learn the truth about this some day. Could it have been prevented? That we will never really know. It is clear that we did not believe our Ambassador to Libya was in imminent danger and it was a very sobering lesson to learn. 
It is clear that living for decades with the  uncertainties we are facing in the Middle East recalls the years of the cold war and doesn’t sit comfortably with any of us who lived through those times. It appears that these particular tensions will resolve slowly, unless the red line kills us all. Most of us, except for a few warmongers, don’t have a clue about what America should do. We are dreaming of peaceful coexistence, however, we accept that we may not get this particular outcome at this particular time.