Dear Mr President… How red does a line have to be?

Dear Mr President

Shooting for the sake of shooting does not signal strength and determination.  On the contrary, it projects weakness and indecision.   It supports the view of those who suggest that the US shoots first and then asks the important questions.

The purpose of military action when executed by a democratic government is surely the realisation of a political or strategic goal which cannot be achieved in any other way.

What exactly is your political goal in regard to Syria?  What is your strategy? Do you actually have one?  What do you wish to achieve with an attack on Syria?  Have you any idea of the ramifications of such an attack?  What is your endgame?

If you are unable to answer all these somewhat obvious questions in a clear and concise manner, then cease and desist, take a breath and think again.

For sure, last year you drew a line, a red line and clearly stated that the use of chemical weapons would constitute a crossing of that line.  But tell me Mr President, how red does a line have to be?

The hideous footage depicting the cruel and cold blooded use of chemical weapons against civilians in a Damascus suburb last week shocked and enraged us all.  There can be no place for such crimes in the world and those who perpetrate such acts should indeed be brought to account.

However, the 1300 victims who died in last week’s chemical attack only add to a rising death toll which already exceeds 100,000 as a result of the Syrian regime’s slaughter of its own people.  For over two and a half years the US and the rest of the so called civilised word has sat on the side lines and watched as Assad and his cohorts committed crime after horrendous crime including the use of chemical weapons, rape, torture and the summary execution of men woman and children.  Can you please explain how a red line painted in the blood of over 100,000 men, woman and children does not constitute a line crossed, while the discomfort in western living rooms due to  the televised suffering of a chemical attack and the consequent death  of 1,300 innocents does?

What has changed?   Is there a manner in which you can kill over 100,000 people and not cross a line?  Surely a regime which murders over 100,000 of its own citizens has to be called to account and removed.  If not, then why would another 1,300 deaths, around 1% of the total deaths to date in the Syrian civil war; warrant military action by the west.  Is this the virtual straw which has led to the complete collapse of the camel, or is this more a case of an embarrassed US administration now grasping at another virtual straw, believing it must do something, anything in order to regain a modicum of credibility in the eyes of the world.

Pandering to the damaged ego of a US President and his administration is not a credible reason for going to war.  You will have to do better.

The problem in Syria is complex beyond most western understanding and more rockets and bombs are not going to improve the situation.  Notwithstanding the wholesale slaughter and death of innocents which desperately needs to end, the major threat in Syria to US and international interests is the very existence of, and now proven willingness to deploy large amounts of chemical and biological weapons.  The players in this conflict are as bad as each other, and would happily use whatever weapons at their disposal to hurt their own people, never mind US and Western interests.  You are therefore caught between a veritable rock and a hard place.

Doing nothing is not an option, as it will only encourage further carnage and use of chemical and perhaps other WMDs.  Let us not forget that Iran is watching closely as it continues its concerted efforts to become a nuclear power.  Inactivity and lack of consequences for the use of chemical weapons; will be seen as confirmation that the US and the West do not have the stomach for a fight and will eventually learn to live with a nuclear Iran, however reluctantly.

If you want some advice, the only scenario under which you should even consider a military option is one where you are prepared to follow through and attain the only possible positive outcome that could come from such a move.  That is the location, verification and destruction and or confiscation of these weapons in order to ensure that they cannot be used again by Assad and to ensure that they do not fall into the hands of Islamic extremists, a nightmare scenario if ever there was one.

Such an action, where there is a clear and logical strategic goal which improves the situation on the ground and reduces the risk of further use of WMDs could be justified and even welcomed.   The fantasy of a “discreet and limited” action is just one more example of the US administration’s failure to comprehend the region and a lamentable level of ineptitude when it comes to Middle East policy.

Current events in Syria demand action, but serious and meaningful action which alters the situation on the ground for the better. Anything less, such as a limited attack in order to “make a point” will be a futile exercise with untold ramifications.


About the Author
Gary Cohen is a documentary filmmaker and writer. He currently combines his writing and creative activities with a career in consulting.