Thursday, January 17, 2013

Will the U.S. Finally Flex Its “Red Line” Muscle in Syria?

Recent events in Syria may finally answer the elusive question on whether “red lines” drawn by the U.S. are really deterrents for other nations to abide by our rules or just tough guy talk. After North Korea has plowed over one red line after another, U.S. credibility can easily be called into question. Iran’s nuclear development program has not given much insight on the point of U.S. resolve either. When asked by Israel to draw a red line for Iran on its nuclear development, Obama refused for several reasons. The most important of which was that he knew very well that Iran would respect no such red line, which would force the U.S. to choose between taking military action or face public and political backlash for a lack of credibility. While a military engagement would have been operationally feasible, the U.S. was not prepared to do so, politically or logistically.

But the red line drawn for Syria on its possible use of chemical weapons seemed to be firmly in place when first issued. In August 2012, Obama threatened a pre-emptive military engagement against the Syrian regime if it was determined that Assad’s forces were moving toward the use of chemical weapons. Several months later, however, the line got a bit fuzzy when the threat changed to be more responsive in nature to the actual use of chemical weapons. Evidence of U.S. resolve began to present itself in the first week of December 2012 after Syrian force loaded their chemical weapons. The U.S. response was to send an aircraft carrier, several offensive aircraft, an amphibious warship, and thousands of troops to the Syrian shore. Other NATO forces, including the French and the British, also seem ready to pounce. Yet after a questionable attack on opposition forces on December 23rd, the red line is still in question.
On that day, Syrian forces attacked opposition forces in the city of Homs with a gas of some kind, killing 5 people and injuring about 100. It is yet to be determined whether the gas was a nerve agent (a chemical weapon capable of mass destruction) or a strong hallucinogen (a weapon generally used in riot controls which is only lethal in very strong doses). While the rebels claim to have been hit with a chemical weapon, there are inconsistencies in the effects on the victims versus the effects that would be caused by a chemical weapon. Nevertheless, the hallucinogen agent is not one that Syria is known to possess. With the type of weapon still in question, it is unclear whether Assad actually used a chemical weapon, which could indicate that his regime is mixing different gases to determine what is acceptable and what is not. He may not have crossed the red line, but he seems to be teasing and testing the U.S. by doing the hokey-pokey right on top of it. Only if he loses his balance on the wrong side will our curiosity be satisfied.

No comments: