Red lines and last stands

Enthusiasm for bombing Syria has grown to the point where it’s no longer clear that President Obama will wait for United Nations approval.  It was already silly to expect him to seek approval from the United States Congress, but as Anne Bayefsky points out at Fox News, Obama used to make quite the fetish of securing U.N. authorization for military action:

The dilemma is multiplied many times over for President Obama, who has said umpteen times that the U.N. is the center of his universe. As recently, as last Friday, the president told CNN: ???If the U.S. goes in and attacks another country without a U.N. mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it?????? Lavrov couldn???t agree more.

In September 2009, President Obama bounded up to the U.N. General Assembly podium and announced: ???We’ve re-engaged the United Nations??? We have sought???a new era of engagement with the world.??? He would ???begin a new chapter of international cooperation??? and he promised ???we will work with the U.N.??? In short, Gulliver marched into the UN and demanded to be tied down.

Ditto with the U.N. Human Rights Council. Having lectured for five years that this anti-American anti-Israel cesspool is the best place to handle the world???s human rights problems, how is the President going to explain that it isn???t up to the task?

Bayefsky also remembers that Saddam Hussein gassed a hell of a lot more people than Bashar Assad has, but Obama vigorously opposed military action against him..  That will be easy for the Left to forget – they’re very good at selectively editing their memories about such things – but it’s grimly amusing to hear them swallow exactly the same arguments they rejected as warmongering trickery when they came from George W. Bush.  It’s even more amusing to hear this rhetoric come from John Kerry, once Bush’s nemesis in the 2004 election, but now Barack Obama’s Secretary of State.  There have to be a few Kerry voters who retain the intellectual honesty to feel nauseous when they hear Kerry dishing out the exact same arguments he ran hard against, nine years ago..

So much for that “global test,” eh, Secretary Kerry?  We can’t very well subject Obama foreign policy to such a test, because we already know Russia and China are itching to scribble failing grades and frowny faces all over it.  The BBC brings us the latest from the Russian front:

Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich has called on the international community to show “prudence” over the crisis and observe international law.

Attempts to bypass the Security Council, once again to create artificial groundless excuses for a military intervention in the region are fraught with new suffering in Syria and catastrophic consequences for other countries of the Middle East and North Africa,” he said in a statement.

Late on Monday, the US said it was postponing a meeting on Syria with Russian diplomats, citing “ongoing consultations” about alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Hours later, Russia expressed regret about the decision. The two sides had been due to meet in The Hague on Wednesday to discuss setting up an international conference on finding a political solution to the crisis.

The Russian deputy defence minister, Gennady Gatilov said working out the political parameters for a resolution on Syria would be especially useful, with the threat of force hanging over the country.

On Monday, Mr Cameron spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin who said there was no evidence yet that Syria had used chemical weapons against rebels, Mr Cameron’s office said.

The official Chinese news agency, Xinhua, said Western powers were rushing to conclusions about who may have used chemical weapons in Syria before UN inspectors had completed their investigation.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov added that the use of force without Security Council authorization would be “a crude violation of international law,” which is exactly the kind of thing Barack Obama and John Kerry would have said, before they became the crude violators.

They also used to make a lot of noise about giving U.N. inspectors time to finish their inspections.  The team in Syria had to dodge sniper fire on their first day.  Their second day of work has been postponed by the Syrian government, supposedly due to “disputes between groups of rebels.”  But depending on whether you listen to White House spokesman Jay Carney or Secretary of State Kerry, there is ether “very little doubt that the Assad regime used [chemical] weapons,” or they are “undeniably” the culprits, so it’s time to gas up the cruise missiles.

It’s still not clear what targets those missiles will be cruising into.  Russia Today reports that the rebels have been supplying suggested target lists, and also says there has been activity at U.K. airbases that implies we might be seeing more than a shower of cruise missiles.  But statements from the Obama Administration on Tuesday morning signaled they were not interested in decisively changing the course of the Syrian civil war with these surgical strikes – we’re looking at punitive action, not a civil war game-changer.

Which makes the whole thing seem a bit pointless, since Assad has lately been winning the civil war.  If the idea is to change his thinking about the costs and benefits of using WMD, we’re evidently going to stop short of teaching him that crossing the “red line” means you lose.
Contrary to all the rhetoric about the unspeakable “moral obscenity” of using chemical weapons, as Kerry put it, NATO strategy will teach Assad to view deployment of his sarin stockpiles as a big hassle, not a mortal sin.

Why is killing a thousand people with nerve gas a “moral obscenity,” but shredding a hundred thousand of them to bits with conventional weapons and torture chambers less troublesome?  A lot of this “red line” fever is really directed at Iran and other aspiring nuclear states.  It’s an article of faith for the international community that it can restrain nuclear Iran with diplomatic resolutions and Strongly Worded Letters; it has to believe that, having abandoned the resolution to prevent Iran from going nuclear.  There must be some hierarchy of rewards and punishments to sustain the U.N. word-view, some difference between the annoying, the unacceptable, and the truly unthinkable.  If the community of civilizations can’t draw some red lines, their world-view is null and void.

That’s why deployment of anything classified as a Weapon of Mass Destruction is the one atrocity a dictator isn’t allowed to perpetrate against his people.  Sure, Saddam got away with it, but nuclear Iran wasn’t peeping over the horizon back then.  The international community has come to realize that if this one thing cannot be strictly forbidden, there’s no way it can engage with rogue states at all.  There’s no way Obama’s “red line” talk can be revealed as completely meaningless bluster.  Something has to blow up in Syria, if only so that international diplomats can sleep at night, knowing they will be dealing with nuclear Iran tomorrow.

Update: Bret Stephens at the Wall Street Journal looks at the history of punitive bombing campaigns, considers Obama’s rhetoric about the importance of “getting” Osama bin Laden, and concludes that contrary to current Administration rhetoric, the logical target of any cruise missile strike must be Bashar Assad himself.  “A strike directed straight at the Syrian dictator and his family is the only military option that will not run afoul of the only red line Mr. Obama is adamant about: not getting drawn into a protracted Syrian conflict,” Stephens writes.  “And it is the one option that has a chance to pay strategic dividends from what will inevitably be a symbolic action.”

Update: A series of leaks and official statements from the Administration throughout Tuesday morning have made it increasingly clear the missile strikes will be happening.  They’re even sending remarkably clear signals about when the campaign will begin, and how long it will last.  I can’t get scheduling this precise when I put in a service call to my cable TV company.  I offered a few comments on the absurdity of the situation via Twitter: