Of Realpolitik and Red Lines

The Syrian regime may have used chemical weapons again, this time in an even larger and more deadly attack.

red line

CNN is reporting that the Syrian opposition has claimed that the Assad regime has killed hundreds of people in an attack using nerve gas:

Initially Syrian opposition groups claimed that hundreds were killed Wednesday, but as the day wore on the number went up — over 1,300 people, according to the opposition Local Coordination Committes and the Syrian National Council. The council is an umbrella group of anti-regime activists.

A senior Obama administration official said the United States had no official confirmation that chemical weapons were used in recent attacks in Syria.

“If true, it would be further evidence of unconscionable brutality by a desperate man and a desperate regime,” the official said.

“We are aware of the reports (of chemical weapons), and we are trying to find out more,” U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said Wednesday.

and they’ve produced video to substantiate their claims.

I mourn the loss of innocent life but, sadly, even if the claims about the attack proved true it changes nothing in the situation from a Realpolitik standpoint. The regime has in all likelihood used chemical weapons against its own people in the past and, despite talk of “red lines”, if the earlier attacks did not provoke more than a rhetorical response from the Obama Administration, this latest attack isn’t likely to, either.

The humanitarian case is obvious; the UN’s estimate is that 100,000 people have been killed since the civil war began. The practical case is much harder to make: even with Western military intervention into the conflict there’s no guarantee that the bloodshed would stop—both sides have long lists of atrocities attributed to them. The majority of Americans disapprove of U. S. involvement in the conflict. Although it’s possible that these latest reports could move the needle in the direction of a more active U. S. role, frankly, I doubt it.

FILED UNDER: General, ,
Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    I agree completely. This is one to stay out of.

  2. C. Clavin says:

    Stay away from this…with a ten foot pole.
    I’m sure Butters and the Old Man are itching to send other peoples kids into the fray.

  3. Pinky says:

    It’s hard to see this situation improving with Assad alive. It’s hard to see it get worse if Assad died, and there are plenty of ways that his death could lead to improvements.

  4. inhumans99 says:

    I cringed when I read the article this morning, and yet…we have resisted sending in boots on the ground after Egypt slaughtered hundreds of its citizens, so I suspect we will do the same this time around, and not stick our hands into the tar baby that is Syria.

    I have family in Turkey (nowhere near the border, thankfully). so I admit to following stories about the conflict in Syria a bit closer than usual.

  5. Tillman says:

    If anything, our involvement with the conflict should be spurring other nations into not getting involved (looking at you, Russia).

    We’re dealing with tribal grievances that go back longer than our country has existed, in some ways.

  6. Tillman says:

    @Pinky: Well, if Assad dies, any illusion of this being a dictator attempting to pacify a rebellion disappears and we enter a full civil war in every sense of the phrase. Assad is just the face of a sectarian conflict, he probably has plenty of lieutenants willing and capable of taking up the reins.

  7. R.Dave says:

    The answer is simple: decapitate the regime and make it clear that we’ll do the same to the next guys if they commit similar atrocities. Set a precedent and stick to it.

  8. michael reynolds says:

    @R.Dave:

    I see the logic of that and have said as much in different contexts before. But I have come to accept that the modern world simply does not allow for such effective brutality.

  9. Ron Beasley says:

    It’s become fairly obvious that there are no “good guys” here. In fact do we really know if it was the Assad regime that used the weapons or did the rebels get a hold of some and make it look like the Assad regime has used to draw in foreign support. This is something we should stay out of.

  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Pinky:

    It’s hard to see this situation improving with Assad alive. It’s hard to see it get worse if Assad died,

    @R.Dave:

    The answer is simple: decapitate the regime and make it clear that we’ll do the same to the next guys if they commit similar atrocities.

    This. A thousand times this. No, a million times this. Because it worked so well in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  11. Barry says:

    Dave, we’ve heard this sh*t before. My attitude is that we grab everybody from the media, blogs and ‘think tanks’/academia who supported the Iraq War, fit them with cameras, and drop them in.

    Just to make sure.

    And if there are chemical weapons being used, we’ll probably have to go to war, but first we get to see neocons doing the dying cockroach, so there’ll be some entertainment, at least.

  12. Barry says:

    @R.Dave: “The answer is simple: decapitate the regime and make it clear that we’ll do the same to the next guys if they commit similar atrocities. Set a precedent and stick to it. ”

    Congratulations for recovering from that coma!

    While you’re learning to walk and such, have a friend bring over an ‘iPad’, so that you can find out how well our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan worked out.

  13. C. Clavin says:

    “…The answer is simple: decapitate the regime and make it clear that we’ll do the same to the next guys if they commit similar atrocities…”

    Foreign policy according to videogames.

  14. Tyrell says:

    Where is the UN? How about other countries working on this one?
    “I’ve done my time. My war is over” (John Rambo).

  15. superdestroyer says:

    @michael reynolds:

    If you believe that the U.S. should stay out of Syrina (and it should) then why not take the Obama Administration to task for saying stupid things and giving ultimatums that the administrations were never going to follow through on.

    If a Republican Administration had done exactly the same thing in regards to Syria (talk big and not follow through), progressives would be screaming about the incompetence, the stupidity, the short-sightedness of those Republicans. But since Team Blue are the ones making the public relations mistakes, progressives want to separate the policy from the administration that is actually implementing the policy.

  16. R.Dave says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Because it worked so well in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    @Barry:

    find out how well our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan worked out

    Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan were handled using the strategy I just suggested for Syria. They were handled as nation-building exercises and counterinsurgencies. I am suggesting neither. My argument is for a decapitating strike against the current leadership followed by a hands-off approach to the aftermath unless/until whoever takes over engages in similarly awful behavior, at which point we rinse and repeat. There are potential problems with my suggested approach, of course, but they are not the same problems illustrated by the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns.

    @michael reynolds:

    I see the logic of that and have said as much in different contexts before. But I have come to accept that the modern world simply does not allow for such effective brutality.

    Indeed.

  17. Robert C says:

    Why are you all drinking the kool aid…are we sure Assad’s people did this? I trust close to nothing from the MSM, let alone gov’t talking heads.

  18. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Assad is a bad guy. That is not disputable.

    Do we have the slightest indicators that whoever would replace Assad would be better?

    We tried the “anyone would be better than the current guy” in Libya and Egypt, and that’s just working out swimmingly, isn’t it?

    Obama should learn to STFU when he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Unfortunately, mouthing off over things he doesn’t know a damned thing about is pretty much his stock in trade. The Henry Louis Gates dustup, the Trayvon Martin case, Libya, Egypt, Syria, and that’s just a few examples.

    Someone should remind Obama about the old quote: “It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it.” Besides, he has Joe Biden around to give out incredibly stupid quotes; he doesn’t need to do it himself.

  19. We tried the “anyone would be better than the current guy” in Libya and Egypt, and that’s just working out swimmingly, isn’t it?

    So what would you propose we have done in Egypt? Invade the country and keep Mubarak in charge via a US occupation? Do you seriously think that would be better than the current situation?

  20. @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Unfortunately, mouthing off over things he doesn’t know a damned thing about is pretty much his stock in trade.

    The unrecognized irony is giving me a migraine.

  21. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Stormy Dragon: So what would you propose we have done in Egypt? Invade the country and keep Mubarak in charge via a US occupation? Do you seriously think that would be better than the current situation?

    I’m fairly certain that The Obama Option — back the Muslim Brotherhood and hope they’ll be nice — would have been pretty damned low on my list.

    And thanks for comparing me to Obama. While I freely admit that sometimes I mouth off without thinking things through entirely, I don’t speak for anyone but myself. And I’m not lauded as The Smartest Man Ever Elected President.

  22. @Jenos Idanian #13:

    I’m fairly certain that The Obama Option — back the Muslim Brotherhood and hope they’ll be nice — would have been pretty damned low on my list.

    In what way did Obama “back the Muslim Brotherhood”? And I didn’t ask what you wouldn’t have done, I asked what you would have done.

  23. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @R.Dave:

    Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan were handled using the strategy I just suggested for Syria.

    Iraq was ALL about removing Saddam from power. Afghanistan was ALL about removing the Taliban from power. In Iraq, we succeeded…. But if you call what happened today, “success”, I wonder about your intelligence. Afghanistan…. In the strictest sense, we removed them from power, but how long will it take them to reassert power after we leave?

    I tried to be nice. Fat lot of good it did. Do I have to ask if you are stupid? Do I have to ask “What world do you live in?” What in this world will convince you that “your strategy” is a joke?

    Jeebus…. Those who will not learn from history are doomed to repeat it…. And this is history you lived.

  24. C. Clavin says:

    Obama should learn to STFU when he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

    If you did that you’d be a mute.

  25. george says:

    It would have been better if Obama hadn’t said anything about red lines.

    But its still orders of magnitude better that he realizes his mistake rather than try to salvage it by going into a pointless war (pointless because nothing good can come of it for anyone).

    Politicians often say stupid things – all of them in fact. The bigger problem is when politicians do stupid things.

  26. Tyrell says:

    I don’t see what it could hurt for Obama to have discussions with the leaders of Syria and the leaders of these protestors. Another idea would be to send Secretary Kerry and Secretary Hagel over there to sit down and see what can be worked out. I do not know how much aid we send to them if any, but we could offer some forms of help contingent on their promises of no more violence and to guarantee rights for all of their citizens. Other people that might be of value over there: Clinton (Bill), Carter, and Robert Gates.
    Too bad General Allenby is not around. He kept the middle east straight.
    “Midnight at the oasis… send your camels to bed” (Muldaur)

  27. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @george: It would have been better if Obama hadn’t said anything about red lines.

    But its still orders of magnitude better that he realizes his mistake rather than try to salvage it by going into a pointless war (pointless because nothing good can come of it for anyone).

    Objection, your honor. Presumes facts not in evidence.

    How do we know that Obama has realized his mistake? I guess one could assume such by the refusals of his spokespeople to even acknowledge that he’d made such statements, but we all know when we assume…

  28. Franklin says:

    @superdestroyer: I agree that Obama shouldn’t issue baseless ultimatums, and that we should stay out of this.

    But anyway, I’m getting an ad on the sidebar for The One Surprising “Sugar Destroyer” and it’s cracking me up.

  29. C. Clavin says:

    I think given the situation in Syria we should invade and occupy Venezuala.
    We know they have WMD…and were seen meeting in Niger about red velvet cake.
    It will only take 6 weeks and will pay for itself.

  30. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @Tillman: You can look all you want. Vladimir is not likely to do anything unless (and until) he sees what the bottom line will look like. In this case, intervetion has no more bottom line for him than it does for anyone else. Maybe less.

  31. C. Clavin says:

    How do we know that Obama has realized his mistake?

    The idea that a card-carrying member of the Republican cult would even raise the issue of foreign policy mistakes…after the colossal historic blunder that you encouraged, supported, and rooted for…is downright comical. If anyone should STFU it is you, clown. Yet you prattle on as if you have any sort of a fvckng clue. If I had ever been as wrong about anything as you were about Iraq…I’d slink into the background…like Jan had the good sense to do. And you are too fvcking stupid to do.

  32. James Pearce says:

    @C. Clavin:

    The idea that a card-carrying member of the Republican cult would even raise the issue of foreign policy mistakes…after the colossal historic blunder that you encouraged, supported, and rooted for…is downright comical.

    Indeed. One wonders what a President Romney would be doing about Syria.

    If his Benghazi response was any indication……probably blaming it all on Obama.

  33. C. Clavin says:

    @ Pearce…
    A President Romney would be letting the Neo-Cons run things and we’d be mired down in another colossal blunder and Jenos would be 100% behind his team. Because to nimrods like Jenos it’s all about cheerleading for their team. They aren’t smart enough to question anything…because the cult demands mindless adherence to the faith.

  34. anjin-san says:

    realizes his mistake

    A mistake that cost us more or less nothing. I can live with that pretty easily.

    In other news. 29% of Republicans in Louisiana blame Obama for the horrible federal response to Katrina. More adventures in time travel…

  35. @Stormy Dragon:

    So what would you propose we have done in Egypt? Invade the country and keep Mubarak in charge via a US occupation? Do you seriously think that would be better than the current situation?

    Coming from the same people that think we should have given the Shah a couple armoured divisions to massacre protesters in the street, what can we really expect at this point?

  36. dazedandconfused says:

    R.Dave,

    PlayStation may have a game wherein Saddam and Qadhaffi were surgically decapitation on the first day by air attack, but in the real wars it didn’t happen like that. They didn’t come out and duel us with a bottomless-magazined Mini-gun in each hand too.

  37. R.Dave says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Iraq was ALL about removing Saddam from power. Afghanistan was ALL about removing the Taliban from power.

    No, the initial phase was about removing the existing government, but then we entered into prolonged periods of occupation, counterinsurgency and nation-building. Libya is a better example of what I’m advocating, but even that involved coordination with rebel forces. I’m talking about targeted air strikes on leadership…period. We don’t have the ability to remake whole societies – that’s the lesson of Iraq and Afghanistan – but we very much do have the ability to incentivize governments (by levying a credible threat of direct, personally-targeted retaliation against leadership) to refrain from massacring their own people.

  38. R.Dave says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    PlayStation may have a game wherein Saddam and Qadhaffi were surgically decapitation on the first day by air attack, but in the real wars it didn’t happen like that. They didn’t come out and duel us with a bottomless-magazined Mini-gun in each hand too.

    That’s certainly true. In those cases, however, our goals were broader than simply punishing/preventing severe human rights abuses / war crimes. We were after wholesale regime change. In this case, the goals would be more limited. Since the decisions that lead to the abuses we’re trying to punish/prevent are made by individuals – indeed, a very narrow group of individuals in dictatorial regimes – personally-targeted attacks may be both more persuasive than generalized attacks against their military/regime as a whole, and more likely to prompt internal coups/defections since the rest of the regime would have a strong incentive to disassociate itself from the leadership being targeted.

  39. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Someone else noted that the Muslim world is heavily into symbolism and anniversary dates. The Benghazi massacre fell on the 11th anniversary of 9/11, and apparently Assad launched a major chemical weapons attack on the anniversary of Obama proclaiming his “red line.”

    What a giant middle finger to Obama that was. And, as Obama represents the nation, a giant middle finger to the US.

    How delightful…

  40. C. Clavin says:

    “…The Benghazi massacre…”

    Seriously?

    Massacre:
    noun
    1. the unnecessary, indiscriminate killing of a large number of human beings or animals, as in barbarous warfare or persecution or for revenge or plunder.
    2. a general slaughter, as of persons or animals: the massacre of millions during the war.

    Do you refer to the Cole Bombing as the Cole Massacre?
    Jimminy….you are a total fool.

  41. Sound the Alarm! says:

    Do you refer to the Cole Bombing as the Cole Massacre?

    Sure, just like he refers to the Marine barracks bombing (241 dead) as the Marine barracks massacre.

    Dancing on the graves of our dead from Benghazi never gets old for skippy.

  42. Sound the Alarm! says:

    @ R.Dave

    I think heads of state, be they good, bad, or indifferent, have a tacit unspoken agreement that they are not going to assassinate other heads of state. That sort of thing can get out of hand very quickly, and ruling classes everywhere have a vested interest in stability.

  43. Sound the Alarm! says:

    What a giant middle finger to Obama that was

    Well let’s just kill a lot of brown folks. Then people like you can put a USA #1 bumper sticker on the ol’ pickup truck with a little more pride.

  44. C. Clavin says:

    Today from Politico…essentially a website that should be called Inside the Beltway…

    “…McCain said in a “matter of a couple of days” the U.S. military could take out Syrian runways and the aircraft used by Syrian President Bashar Assad which have been dominating the battlefields….“We can supply the right kind of weapons to rebels and to establish a no-fly zone by moving patriot missiles up to the border. This can be done very easily,” McCain said…”

    http://www.politico.com/story/2013/08/crisis-in-syria-john-mccain-us-intervention-95792.html?hp=r3
    Now…no where in the Politco article did it say:

    “…Mr. McCain said essentially the same thing about Iraq…where we have lost 4000 lives and spent upwards of $2T…”

    There should be a similar disclaimeraccompanying anything McCain says about anything.
    Giving this idiot a platform to spout his nonsense is tantamount to giving Jenos a national platform to spout his nonsense. Why in the world would you ever?

  45. Rob in CT says:

    The “Red Line” thing was an unforced error, no doubt. I hope our government does the intelligent, if slightly embarrassing, thing and stays the hell out of this clusterf*ck.

    Superduper:

    If a Republican Administration had done exactly the same thing in regards to Syria (talk big and not follow through), progressives would be screaming about the incompetence, the stupidity, the short-sightedness of those Republicans

    Actually, if Team Red had acted like that in the recent past, I might not be part of Team Blue in the first place. Or, if I was, I might be a lot less comfortable within Team Blue. I know from previous discussions that my route to Team Blue is pretty common. For me, Team Red had much more credibility for sane foreign policy right up until Iraq, whereupon it blew said credibility entirely. The Dems gained not so much by being great, but by being better/less bad.

    In keeping with that, a number of us have criticized Obama for his “red line.” I refered to it as a clear unforced error in his part, back when it first happened. There are divisions within Team Blue over when it is or isn’t appropriate to intervene. We had a good discussion of that while talking about Susan Rice, Rwanda, R2P, etc.

    You could address those things, but you’d rather wallow in your victimhood.

  46. mantis says:

    A threat can cost nothing, and sometimes works, even if you don’t intend to follow through.

  47. C. Clavin says:

    @ Mantis…
    Do you mean like:

    GEORGE W. BUSH: I can hear you, the rest of the world hears you, and the people…
    CROWD: (cheers interrupt)
    GEORGE W. BUSH: …and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.

    I’m not sure “Mission Accomplished” counts

  48. dazedandconfused says:

    @R.Dave:

    The point was that it’s not easy to hit a head of state. We tried in 81 on Qadhaffi and missed then too. Never got Fidel….

  49. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @R.Dave:

    No, the initial phase was about removing the existing government,

    Yes, YESYESYESYESYESYES!!!!!! And who was the existing government???????????

    Saddam.

    And just exactly what did we try to do in the “initial phase”?????

    Oh yeah, we bombed the piss out of every one of the palaces we thought he MIGHT be sleeping in that night. Why? Because…… We had “actionable intelligence”… Which was wrong. How many months before we got him?

    And are you actually going to argue that Iraq is a better place today? How about this: Iraq is better for US today????

    Look… It just is not that easy. Never has been, never will be. If it was, Hitler would have been done for in ’42. And killing people, even if you do it for all the right reasons, has rarely yielded the right results.

    Just look at Jesus.

  50. mantis says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Do you mean like:

    Not really, because I believe President Bush did intend to follow through when he said that, plus that’s more a vow of vengeance than an ultimatum. I don’t believe President Obama will really act in any way that will stop Assad. The ultimatum didn’t work, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth trying.