Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Red Line Disappearing into the Syrian Sand

Here's how President Obama drew the red line back in August 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.
Was Syria tacitly given a pass to use chemical weapons as long as it did not use "a whole bunch"? Just how much is "a whole bunch"?

I'm hearing a lot being said about "credibility" and I would guess that means those people think a whole bunch of credibility is at stake. Credibility is the cousin of legitimacy, which also came up in the President's remarks on Syria a year ago:
"I have indicated repeatedly that President al-Assad has lost legitimacy, that he needs to step down. So far, he hasn’t gotten the message, and instead has double downed in violence on his own people. The international community has sent a clear message that rather than drag his country into civil war he should move in the direction of a political transition."
I imagine that message was just as clear as the red line. Unfortunately, at the same time the President was drawing his red line he was also prematurely measuring the drapes for the Syrian opposition to take over the Syrian palaces:
"We said that we would provide, in consultation with the international community, some assistance to the opposition in thinking about how would a political transition take place, and what are the principles that should be upheld in terms of looking out for minority rights and human rights. And that consultation is taking place.
The New York Times has a video of Syrian rebels executing prisoners so apparently those consultations weren't especially persuasive. That's a war crime too, for those keeping track of international norms.

Note: The New York Times has suffered its own credibility problem as it has issued a correction indicating the execution video was made in the spring of 2012, not April 2013 as it first reported.

I'd suggest the better way to respond is to issue international warrants for the Syrian officers who can be shown to have been involved in using chemical weapons. We have the rest of their lives to extract them from Syria and put them on trial for war crimes, along with any Al Qaeda we can find and extract from among the rebels.

Can we still bring the war criminals to justice if the U.S. bombs Syria, or would that violate the principle of double jeopardy, and cross another red line?

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