Red lines, then and now
Courtesy of ABC News, here’s Barack Obama in 2012 saying what he now claims he didn’t say- drawing a “red line” against, not just the use, but the movement of chemical weapons in Syria:
“We have been very clear – to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground – that a red line for us is, we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized,” blustered the President. “That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”
That sure sounds like Barack Hussein Obama drawing a very personal “red line,” doesn’t it? He made a point of referring to his own “calculus” and “equation” using personal pronouns. That’s because he was trying to sound like a tough guy, a take-charge leader who personally would not stand for the use or movement of chemical weapons. His arrogance wrote a check that Americans are now being told we must all cash, because we don’t dare make him look foolish by denying him permission to blow something up in Syria.
The other missing bit of context is that he was echoing something then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said a few weeks previously, as chronicled by NBC News: “Both the minister [Turkey Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu] and I saw eye to eye on the many tasks that are ahead of us, and the kinds of contingencies that we have to plan for, including the one you mentioned in the horrible event that chemical weapons were used. And everyone has made it clear to the Syrian regime that is a red line for the world.”
Clinton actually did attempt to portray the “red line” as the handiwork of all mankind, asserting the sort of moral authority Western diplomats love when they’re talking about anything they want to depict as an international imperative. They talk the same way when they claim “the world” demands anything from global warming regulations to arms control treaties. But Obama deliberately sought to personalize this imperative, taking ownership and making it his red line, his calculus, his equation, because he thought that made him look commanding. Also, he was trying to deflect questions about why he didn’t do anything when Assad slaughtered tens of thousands of Syrians with conventional weapons. Obama wanted to convey the impression that a chemical weapons attack would be the last straw.
If his words are taken literally, Obama was saying he would intervene even if the rebels used WMD. He did say “other players on the ground,” right? This would presumably oblige him to hit the rebels on Bashar Assad’s behalf, if the rebels are the ones who deployed that nerve gas.
But of course, you’re not supposed to take Obama at his word for anything. His words are meant to be forgotten the day after he speaks them. He’s not responsible for what comes out of his own mouth. Asking him to take personal responsibility for his bellicose rhetoric on Syria is like asking him to apologize for lying about Americans keeping their favorite insurance plans under ObamaCare. Thus, the Empty Chair declared from Sweden today:
“First of all, I didn’t set a red line. The world set a red line. The world set a red line when governments representing 98 percent of the world’s population said the use of chemical weapons are unacceptable and passed a treaty forbidding their use, even when countries are engaged in war. Congress set a red line when it ratified that treaty. Congress set a red line when it indicated that in a piece of legislation entitled the Syria Accountability Act that some of the horrendous things happening on the ground there need to be answered for. So, when I said in a press conference that my calculus about what’s happening in Syria would be altered by the use of chemical weapons, which the overwhelming consensus of humanity says is wrong, that wasn’t something I just kind of made up. I didn’t pluck it out of thin air. There’s a reason for it.”
In other words, he doesn’t want to be held accountable for whatever happens in Syria, so he wants to be seen as the Avatar of Humanity, whose lips The World takes possession of, when it needs to deliver some transcendent truth. That’s also one reason he suddenly decided he needed some congressional Republican signatures on those war orders. If Syria turns into a disaster, it will become a 100 percent Republican operation overnight. Obama will claim he was merely executing the will of Congress. On the other hand, if the Syrian intervention can be spun as a success, it’ll be Obama’s baby. He might - might - politely thank Republican leaders for staying out of his way. And he’ll proudly brandish the red pen he personally drew the Red Line of Syria with.
Alas, nobody bothered to explain the current political strategy to Secretary of State John Kerry, who declared on Wednesday that “the President drew the red line.”
And Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said “The word of the United States must mean something.” But I thought it was The World’s red line we were talking about here? What’s the word of the United States got to do with it? And how can America’s credibility be at risk if The World drew this red line? Can’t The World be expected to enforce its decrees? If we’re worried about American credibility, what squanders it more shamelessly than a President who suddenly denies responsibility for yesterday’s uncompromising rhetoric?
Oh, well, as long as we let President Obama do whatever he wants, without holding him accountable for the results, it’s all good.