The issue of targeted attacks on Syria for the used of chemical weapons has faded from the headlines in the wake of domestic issues and Vladimir Putin’s politically savvy maneuvering to portray himself as savior of the moment, brokering a reputed deal for verifiable destruction of Assad’s cache of chemical weapons.

Central to the debate is whether we believe there is a real distinction between use of conventional weapons and biological and chemical ones? I think there is. The use of these agents makes it easier to target noncombatants and children, and the ability to leave the infrastructure intact potentially encourages the expansion of this particularly obscene form of warfare. And biological weapons have the chilling potential to move beyond the control of the attacker.

Still, there were many cogent arguments voiced for not taking military retribution against Syria’s Assad for the use of chemical weapons on his people: An action for a few hundred lives against the backdrop of 100,000 with conventional weapons makes no sense. It’s their civil war, not ours, and we can no longer afford to be the world’s policeman. It’s a battle of our enemies against our enemies, and the Muslims should take the lead. And, if the world as a whole is unwilling to act, why should we paint an even bigger target on our backs? Despite all of this, our inaction, as logical as it appears on so many fronts, points to a change that should bother us as Americans.

In 1999, you may recall, President Clinton took action in Kosovo on humanitarian grounds. The unfortunate bottom line is that we are no longer in a position of strength to enforce the “red line.” In the past, just our threat would carry weight. Now, our enemies know we’re indebted and war-weary. And the world seems to have neither sufficient moral outrage nor the appetite to support a unified action beyond speeches and resolutions.

If we had a strong, competent leader, one of two tacks might have been taken: quick, decisive military action after covert discussion with our allies, or a concerted effort after the “red line” speech a year ago to get all the ducks in a row, with commitments from the Western nations and the Muslim states to a course of action should the line be crossed. Instead, this second path was taken belatedly, from a position of weakness, granting Assad time to prepare for attack and relocate the weapons of mass distraction. Our president was forced to embrace this turn of events in the face of underwhelming support for what Secretary of State Kerry stated would be an “unbelievably small” action. Obama’s claim that the threat of force is what spurred Putin and Assad to act, which may have a kernel of truth to it, was viewed as a lame excuse in the face of perceived weakness and Congressional dissent. It’s hard to see how our president could be viewed throughout the world as leading, except with his jaw.

I wish we could still be the moral policeman when it comes to issues of the magnitude of chemical weapons, as there is no one to take that role any more, but we’ve been beaten and bruised by long wars and loss of too much blood and treasure. Our new colors are the red, black and blue.


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  1. Sue Moran Says:

    And why are we indebted and war-weary? Why have we been beaten and bruised by long wars and loss of too much blood and treasure? The answer is George W. Bush. He is why we are no longer in a position of strength to enforce the “red line.”

    • heartheaded Says:

      Get over the Bush Derangement Syndrome and leave breathing room for the Obama Derangement Syndrome. Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, believed Sadam had weapons of mass destruction and gave the green light, even though they like to distance themselves from that decision. Ain’t hindsight great?

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