Red Lines in the Sand

Funny, for a man who carefully and methodically chooses his words, I’d bet the ranch that President Obama wishes he could go back a year and take back that statement he made about drawing a red line with respect to Syria using chemical weapons on its citizens.

“We have communicated in no uncertain terms with every player in the region that that’s a red line for us and that there would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front or the use of chemical weapons.”

Yeah, that statement.

True, Obama didn’t specify what those consequences were (I’m guessing it wasn’t sending Assad to bed without his supper) and did go out of his way to use the word “could” with respect to military action, but the problem he has now is that words like “could” are about as meaningless as a salesman saying “around” when talking price with a customer. Nobody ever remembers those words. Their selective hearing screens them out. In the end people remember what they want to remember, and right now most remember that Obama foolishly said red line, chemical weapons, enormous consequences and Syria all in the same sentence. In the political, as well as the sales realm, this is known as boxing yourself in. And right about now, Obama is as boxed in as any president can be.

In Britain, David Cameron’s own party voted down his plan to go along with a strike on Syria. Russia and China blocked a U.N. resolution for military action and the Arab League wants no part of this. The only country that seems willing to come to the dance is France. Sacrebleu!

And then there’s our dear Republican friends in the House and Senate who have drawn their own red line in the sand, as it were, and have ostensibly demanded Obama justify any decision to attack Syria. If you think they were primed to impeach him over a healthcare law that was legally passed and upheld by the Supreme Court, try a unilateral military action without congressional approval. So much for fake news stories. Now the wingnuts on the Right have some real red meat to chew on.

All throughout his presidency, Obama has had a tendency to make his life more difficult by failing to effectively communicate to the voters what his intentions were. He may be the smartest guy in the room – perhaps the whole damn country – but when it came to narrative building he was and is dumb as a cluck.

Now to be fair, Obama’s had fewer brain farts than any president I can think of, which is one of the reasons why his opponents are often forced to literally pull phony scandals out of their ass going after him. But when he has tripped up, boy have they been beauts.

Remember the now infamous claim that if Congress passed the stimulus, unemployment wouldn’t go over 8 percent? Well the GOP did. In fact, they’ve never forgotten it. Rule number one in politics: when in doubt, keep your mouth shut. There’s no excuse for self-inflicted wounds, and, let’s face it, most of Obama’s wounds have been self inflicted.

And this one could end up being be the worst of all. 2013 was already shaping up as a pretty damn lousy year for Obama. The sequester, the phony scandals, Obamacare repeal efforts and the pending debt ceiling and budget resolution quagmires. A full plate if ever there was one. I’ll bet you dollars to donuts, Syria was never on the menu. Now, thanks to a careless interview, it’s the main course.

This is what happens when you stick your foot in your mouth. You end up eating leather for dinner.

The worst thing is, nobody knows how this is all going to play out. While it was reassuring to hear both Secretary of State John Kerry and Obama make clear to the nation that this would not end up being another Iraq, we all remember when the previous administration reassured us that Iraq wouldn’t be Iraq either. Remember that was supposed to be a limited operation too. In and out.  Something about being greeted as liberators.  Promises and politics are like oil and vinegar: they make a nice salad dressing but the moment you put the bottle down, they immediately begin to separate from each other.

Understand, I am NOT implying that Barack Obama and John Kerry are blowing smoke up our asses. I believe Obama means well here. His intentions are honorable. It is clear from what we now know that that was not the case with the Bush Administration. From day one, they deliberately manufactured evidence to give them the justification needed to invade and occupy a sovereign country that had nothing to do with 9/11. History has already made its judgment, no matter what W’s stupid-ass library says.

But, as they say in New York, that and a subway token will get you a ride on the 7th Avenue Express.  The simple truth is, like the former administration, Obama is about to engage in a military action with no clear objective and no exit strategy. Don’t kid yourself: you don’t fire a few Cruise missiles into a country then just tip the fuck out.

What is our goal here? If it’s not regime change, than what? I doubt giving Assad the military equivalent of a hot foot will alter the course of events in Syria. The man is a ruthless killer and his country is practically in ruins anyway. You think he gives a rat’s ass if a couple more buildings get blown up?

And what if there ends up being people in those buildings? Show me the instance where a missile strike doesn’t run the risk of taking out civilian targets and I’ll show you the word never. It would be a tragedy of epic proportions if, in the process of trying to help the people of Syria, Obama ended up killing more of them.

You don’t get an “E” for effort in war. It’s a pass / fail. And the odds of failure are far greater than passing. Syria is not Kosovo or even Libya. It more closely resembles Lebanon, a country that went through a bloody civil war which lasted 15 years. Getting caught up in that kind of mess is not in the best interests of the United States.

There is still time for Obama to change his mind and forgo a strike. He has a plethora of reasons at his disposal. For one, lack of international support. He can also say that, more than likely, the chemical weapons that Assad has stockpiled have been moved. Both are true and valid reasons for not going forward with a missile strike. If you can’t be certain that you will hit your target or even know for certain where your target is, it is best not to launch in the first place.

Yes, he will look weak to some, and his political adversaries will have a field day with him. So what? They would’ve done that regardless of what he did. Since when was this situation different? In deed it has been both humorous and infuriating to hear the Right all of a sudden give a shit about international law over the last few days. I don’t recall hearing a peep out of them during the Bush years.

This isn’t some budget battle with Congress that Obama is facing. Depending on which action he chooses next might well end up defining his entire legacy. I, for one, am praying he makes the right choice.


Author: Peter Fegan

Progressive but pragmatic. Lover of music, die-hard Giants' fan and reluctant Mets' fan. My favorite motto? I'd rather be ruled by a smart Turk than a dumb Christian.

What say you, the people?