from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

The Syria Red Line, Three Years Later

August 30, 2016

Blog Post

It was three years ago, Labor Day weekend in 2013, that President Obama reversed himself and refused to enforce his "red line" against use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime.

What’s the outcome of that decision? In July, 2016, former Obama administration official Derek Chollet wrote an article in Politico with this subtitle: "The offhand remark spurred a massive success in Syria. Why does the foreign policy establishment consider it a failure?"

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Well, here’s one answer: the fact that the Syrian regime continues to use chemical weapons. On August 25, the White House itself condemned the regime for doing so. "It is now impossible to deny that the Syrian regime has repeatedly used industrial chlorine as a weapon against its own people," a National Security Council spokesman said. So what exactly is that "massive success?"

The Obama administration’s former point man for Syria, Fred Hof, today offered a better answer to Chollet’s question:

 

More than half of Syria’s pre-war population now falls into one of the following categories: dead; dying; disabled; tortured; terrorized; traumatized; sick; hungry; homeless. The regime of Bashar al-Assad is responsible for the bulk of this rampant, remorseless criminality. The administration of Barack Obama, if it stays on its present course, will make it through noon, January 20, 2017, without having defended a single Syrian civilian from the Assad-Russia-Iran onslaught.

 

If that is "massive success" one has to wonder what failure would look like.

Hof concludes this way: "This thoroughly avoidable result may well serve to define Mr. Obama—accomplishments at home and abroad notwithstanding—as a failed president."

Depends who’s asking, I guess, and who’s judging.

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One is reminded of Reinhold Niebuhr’s conclusion that nations, and individuals, must sometimes take morally hazardous actions because “the disavowal of the responsibilities of power can involve an individual or nation in even more grievous guilt.” President Obama has called Niebuhr his "favorite philosopher." One wonders if he has actually ever read what Niebuhr wrote about "grievous guilt."

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