Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Consequences of Crossing Red Lines

Bashar al-Assad has crossed the red line not once but several times since the Syrian uprising began almost three years ago. Every time it happened, America threatened to take action but did nothing, emboldening Assad to continue his genocide.

Now the “ultimate” moment of truth has arrived for both the United States and Syria. There is unmistakable evidence that Assad's forces used nerve gas in August to kill more than 1,400 Syrians, including at least 426 children, in attacks on the outskirts of Damascus.

President Obama has no choice but to take action because American credibility is at stake. It came as a surprise to many last week when, at the last moment, he delayed the attack on Syria to gain Congressional approval for his order. It was a diplomatic and tactical move but perhaps not a strategic one.

Although he faces considerable opposition in Congress, Obama will get his authorization for the attack. In spite of the setbacks he has suffered as president, at critical moments Obama has proved to be extraordinarily lucky. There is no doubt that he will be "lucky" this time as well.

For Assad, buoyed by the false assurances of Russia, there is also no turning back. He knows it’s a do or die situation for him. Either call America’s bluff or prepare to take up residence in a Russian dacha, unless, of course, the rebels get to him first and he goes the way of Libya’s Gadhafi.

The critical question is: what happens after the tomahawks fall on selected targets in Syria and the playing field between Assad's forces and the rebels is leveled?

Since America will not put boots on the ground and certainly has no stomach for a drawn-out war as in Afghanistan and Iraq, a flurry of diplomatic moves will ensue. 

Russia, as always, will try to save face by “convincing” Assad that he must give up power and leave the country. Once that happens, America and Russia will use the United Nations to call for a truce between the rebels and Assad’s forces. Inevitably, power will flow to the rebels but since there is no unity among rebel factions, chaos, bordering on catastrophe, may follow. The nihilistic Al-Qaida faction will try to sabotage any peaceful negotiations. The Sunni-Alawite clash may degenerate into an all-out and unending civil war.

From any perspective, the possibility of a stable Syria, at least in the near future, is dim. Yet America must act because the price of inaction is incalculable. America alone has the power and the moral obligation to punish a regime that used Sarin nerve gas on its own people. Everyone in the Syrian government involved in the decision to use chemical weapons must face the music before the International Criminal Court in Hague.

“Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,/The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/The ceremony of innocence is drowned;/The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.

Who would like to live in a world like that?

Yes, America has acted on its imperialistic impulses and brought untold sorrow to millions. It has committed atrocities at home and abroad. But in the case of Syria, America cannot afford to wallow in its mistakes and misbegotten wars. No dictator, tinhorn or otherwise, can be allowed to get away with crimes like the ones that Assad has committed. America alone can right this wrong.

Syria will eventually find its way. Syrians will learn to live with one another in spite of their differences. And one day perhaps they will break free of their tortured past when 'hope and history rhyme.'

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