May 1, 2013

Crossing The Red Line

So today you are the President of These Here United States. Your job, and you have no choice but to accept it, is to decide -- because after all, you are the Decider -- what to do about Syria. The whole world is clamoring for you to take action. So what's it going to be?

A bit of background. There has been a civil war raging in Syria since March 2011. On one side are forces loyal to Syria's president Bashad al-Assar. On the other is a motley crew of rebel groups, some we kind of like, some we definitely don't. The UN estimates that somewhere around 70,000 people have died, but the exact number is anybody's guess. Over a million refugees have fled the fighting into nearby Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan.

As long as people were dying due to conventional weapons, you were content to monitor events, notwithstanding any covert activities that likely have been going on for some time. Then it was alleged that Syria had used sarin nerve gas. Back in August 0f 2102, you warned Syria that using chemical or biological weapons, otherwise known as weapons of mass destruction, would be crossing  "a red line ... that would change my calculus; that would change my equation." Then come reports that just that has happened. Or did it?

The reports originated out of France, Britain and Israel, but the proof to back up the claims has not been forthcoming although, unlike Iraq, the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Syria is not in dispute -- about a 1,000 tons of chemical weapons, stored in dozens of towns and cities throughout Syria.

You'd have to think that at least some sources claiming the use of sarin gas might be the very rebel groups who have a vested interest in drawing the United States directly into an armed intervention against the Syrian government. No independent body has verified the claims, nor is that likely to happen any time soon, and evidence of sarin use dissipates over time.

But let's suppose that it did happen. Or more likely, let's suppose it happens again. What do you do? A handful of conservative Republicans want a military response, but the public is overwhelmingly cool to any sort of military intervention. That sentiment is echoed at the Pentagon, where enthusiasm for yet another military operation is decidedly subdued. Caution is the watchword out of the Pentagon.

So what's left? Doing nothing is not an option. Those who want us to intervene will continue to throw your own words back at you. Even without weapons of mass destruction, the death toll is shockingly high. How many more deaths will it take till you decide that too many people have died?

What do you do? Arm the rebels? If so, which ones? Don't want those bad boy Muslim extremists getting their hands on them ... extremists, I might add, who are quite happy to make hay while you dither, Mr. President. Maybe you set up no-fly zones as was done in Serbia? But Syria is no Serbia. It has excellent air defenses which would have to be taken down first. Do you create safe havens for refugees? How many boots on the ground would that take. Do you try to forge some sort of international consensus? Did I mention that Russia and China will oppose any formal action by the UN Security Council?

The buck stops with you. What will you do? Not as easy as it looks is it, to be the most powerful person in the world?

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