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Tuesday, August 16, 2022
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The world is watching the fluid situation concerning Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s usage of chemical weapons that caused the mass murder of Syrian civilians with much suspense.

President Obama’s announcement to the world that he would seek Congressional approval for a military strike against Syria was met with a very tepid response. The President was dealt a serious setback when the British parliament voted against military action in Syria, despite the fact that British Prime Minister David Cameron publicly supported President Obama’s call for a military operation and urged British lawmakers to authorize Britain’s involvement in any strike.

In addition, the President’s pronouncement raised numerous questions on Capitol Hill, as lawmakers on both sides of aisle expressed opposition to American involvement in a military strike.

The tough talk about a possible military strike softened a bit as the United States and Russia pursued a diplomatic solution in an attempt to defuse the volatile situation. The two superpowers reached an agreement whereby Syria’s chemical weapons will be either destroyed or removed from its possession by the middle of next year.

Although the diplomatic solution theoretically put American military action on hold pending the outcome of the agreement, the Pentagon asserted that American military strikes are still possible if Syria fails to live up to the terms of the agreement.

With so much stake in this tense international showdown, it is worth looking back to ascertain how we got to this point.

We need to look no further than a statement that President Obama made on August 12, 2012. “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. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”

With that bold declaration about a “red line,” the President essentially boxed himself into a corner and propelled himself past the point of no return.

By drawing that line in in the sand, President Obama in effect stated that Syria would face serious repercussions if it employed chemical weaponry, which we now know that it has done.

What is particularly noteworthy about the President’s “red line” declaration is that it was an unscripted remark that he ad-libbed, much to the dismay of his advisors. President Obama deviated from the talking points that his senior officials had compiled for him and went far afield from what they had decided he was going to say about Syria.

The President’s tough talk more than a year ago now has him in a quandary. And as this diplomatic drama with the U.S., Russia and Syria continues to play out, we cannot lose sight of what is at stake.

Syria’s utilization of chemical weapons to carry out the heinous execution of innocent people is an absolutely atrocious act. Yet, the world was clearly divided on how to respond. The mass murder of civilians cannot be tolerated and the international community has a moral obligation to speak up and respond accordingly. In light of the Syrian government’s blatant disregard for human life, silence is simply not an option.

As Jews, we tragically witnessed the inexplicable silence of the international community as six-million Jews endured unspeakable pain and suffering at the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust. We pledged that we would never again allow such horrific acts to be perpetrated against humanity. Yet, here we are, approximately seventy years later, watching as the world took a giant step back in the wake of such a monstrous crime against humanity by the Syrian government.

Whether it is a military strike or some other crippling measure which will prevent Syria from using chemical weapons in the future, the international community has to rise to the occasion and restore law and order to the social fabric of our world. I am not necessarily advocating for a military response; rather, I believe that some concrete step must be taken in response to what has occurred. A diplomatic solution may ultimately deter additional chemical attacks, but only if the terms of the agreement are adhered to, which is a risk that I do not know if the world can afford to take.

Inaction in the wake of Syria’s actions sends a dangerous and troubling message to other rogue nations, such as Iran, that there are no definitive consequences to their criminal actions. Even as Iran continues to brazenly thumb its nose at the international community through its ongoing pursuit of nuclear weapons, the U.S. has gone to great lengths to deter a unilateral strike by Israel against Iran. The world’s indecisive response to the atrocities in Syria is certainly welcome news to Iran, which now can legitimately question the resolve of the United States to initiate any act of force in response to its frightening nuclear quest.

At this juncture, only time will tell whether the President’s red line was drawn with a permanent marker or with invisible ink. Assad crossed that red line when he initiated a chemical weapons attack that claimed the lives of over 1,400 civilians. Yet, the swift and strong response that we thought would ensue never materialized. If no decisive action is taken by the United States or its allies, the red line may effectively disappear.

The diplomatic solution which is being hailed by some is tantamount to a glorified slap on the wrist for Assad in light of the crimes committed by Syria. Tabling the military option and turning instead to a diplomatic solution emboldens Assad and further cements his status as a dictator who knows how to get his way without the fear of reprisal for his actions.

As this drama continues to play out, it is evident that the President’s red line is exceedingly blurry and its true meaning is extremely unclear. Let us hope that it crystalizes sooner rather than later.

By N. Aaron Troodler, Esq.

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