Before a president of the United States declares a line in the sand, he should make sure it means something.
President Barack Obama had said the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government would cross a “red line,” but after being presented with evidence of its use he chose to continue searching for “more conclusive evidence.”
This is not being done in a vacuum. Rogue countries like Iran and North Korea are watching, and the lesson they likely will take away is that the worse they act the more leeway they will be given — and the more likely they will be emboldened to equate a “red line” with a bluff.
Obama has resisted pressure to ratchet up military aid to the rebels but has said Assad’s use of chemical weapons would be a game changer.
“That’s a red line for us,” he said in August. “There would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front, or the use of chemical weapons.”
But last week White House officials acknowledged that Syria probably had used deadly chemical weapons on a small scale twice in March, echoing assessments by Britain, France, Israel and Qatar — allies who want a more aggressive response to the two-year civil war that has killed more than 70,000 people and displaced millions.
Now, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are calling for the president to take some kind of non-lethal action. They are not advocating sending U.S. troops into Syria. And some lawmakers fear that if Syrian President Bashar Assad is brought down, the chemical weapons might fall into the hands of U.S. enemies.
Reasonable options for U.S. military involvement could range from establishing a no-fly zone, to drone attacks, airstrikes or possibly inserting special operations teams to secure the chemical weapons.
Of course the administration should make sure it has solid intelligence before deciding to proceed. But allowing Assad to step over the “red line” as violence and deaths continue — and while Iran and North Korea watch — is not the action the world needs from the chief defender of freedom.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.