Obama and the Red Line (by Khalil Bendib)
Working closely with the United Nations could help Obama avoid the horrendous mistakes Bush and Clinton made
President Barack Obama's recent announcement that he believes Syria has used a small amount of chemical weapons ignited a debate. Has the Assad regime crossed the "red line" the White House laid down?
U.S. intelligence reports "varying degrees of confidence" that Syria used chemical weapons. "We have to act prudently," Obama said. "But I think all of us…recognize how we cannot stand by and permit the systematic use of weapons like chemical weapons on civilian populations."
The situation in Syria is clearly dire, with more than 70,000 deaths. Over 2.5 million Syrian refugees (including 600,000 children) have overwhelmed the ability of the United Nations and neighboring countries to provide adequate care. Another 2 million kids are internally displaced within Syria.
But politicians seem more concerned about U.S. credibility than suffering Syrians. So what's next for Washington?
If I were president, I'd try to carefully navigate between two horrendous mistakes my predecessors made:
George W. Bush:
Launched the Iraq War based on faulty (or imaginary) intelligence. Although an international UN inspection team correctly determined that "there weren't any" weapons of mass destruction, the government disregarded their reports.
failed to declare Rwanda's carnage genocide and take action. Clinton, haunted by this has said, "If we'd gone in sooner, I believe we could have saved at least a third of the lives that were lost."
Fortunately, there's a path between these two calamities. It runs through the United Nations and will require strong U.S. leadership. First, the president should reach out to Russia and China to secure a UN Security Council resolution that authorizes a UN inspection team with unfettered access within Syria to determine what's actually going on there.
Syria has so far barred such a team from entering the country, calling assertions of chemical weapon use "a barefaced lie." Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi has said his government didn't trust the "qualifications" of inspectors from the United States or Britain but would accept Russian inspectors. So include the Russians.
The UN agreement should lay down its own red line. If Syria bars international inspectors, then the next step would be a massive international intervention with four clear goals: Halt the fighting, secure the chemical weapons, allow free access for humanitarian aid and workers, and create the space for a political settlement of the conflict.
The intervention force should have participants from all major nations and regions including the United States, Russia, China and the Arab League states. Russian participation would require regime change to be off the table as an immediate goal. Future leadership could be left up to the Syrians to determine once peace is established.
Although Russia and China have vetoed resolutions on Syria in the past, Obama should be able to make the case that it's not in Russia's or China's interest to have forces allied with al-Qaeda shatter Syria. Both Russia and China face radical Islamist problems of their own and should oppose allowing Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles to fall into the hands of jihadists. It's estimated that the Jabhat Al-Nusra militia, which is affiliated with al-Qaeda, has as many as 5,000 Syrian rebels. According to Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN and Arab League's Special Representative for Syria, they could be supported by a growing force of "30 to 40,000 foreign fighters."
What's the alternative to a UN inspection team backed up by the threat of an international deployment force? All sides lose as Syria's civil war ignites more fighting in Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, and the rest of the region.
Working through the UN would allow Obama to gather more intelligence on who has used chemical weapons, spread the burden of protecting the Syrian population, secure some very dangerous weapons, and avoid a terrible regional war. It's an option he should consider.
- United States Shouldn't Have Gone to Bat for Egypt's Morsi
- Then What in Syria?
- The Monotonous Middle East
- Public Opinion in Arab World Turns Against Iran
- Turkey Finds That Trouble Knows No Bounds
- Iraq: Mission Failure
- Iraq Can't Avoid Syria Contagion
- Sectarian Pressures Tearing Up the Sykes-Picot Map
- Saudi Arabia takes tentative steps to end child marriage
- Who are Turkey's Agents Provocateurs?
- US and Russia must work to stop snowballing Syrian crisis
- Syria: Russia's Big Test
- Syria's Religious War
- Back to the Future for Syria
- Hoping for Change in Syria
- A Grass-Roots View of the Syrian Uprising
- Is America About to Checkmate Russia in Syria?
- US Weighs Syrian Intervention, Despite Consequences
- Date with History... Cairo's First Revolution
- Obama Got Ahead of Himself with 'Red Line' Talk on Syria
- Palestine After Fayyad: The Choice Between Cooperation and Conflict
- Turkey: PKK Fighters Begin Their Withdrawal to North Iraq
- The Path to Follow after Syria Crosses the Red Line
- Redlines and the Problems of Intervention in Syria
- Leadership, Not Locusts, is Egypt's Greatest Plague
- Iran's North Korean Nuclear Future
- Iran: Birth Control Flip Flops
- Saudi Arabia: Cyber-savvy Youth on the Rise
- Syria: Chess Match Turned Free-for-All
- Iran's Regional Quagmire
- The Saudi-Iranian Rivalry and the Future of Middle East Security
- Iran's Internal Politics
- Iran's Pursuit of Nuclear Weapons in a Regional Context
- Israeli Apology to Turkey Big First Step But Not Sea Change
- Israel's Insightful Cynicism
- Settlements Still Blocking Middle East Peace Agreement
- With Bus Segregation Israeli Apartheid Becomes More Blatant
- Is Egypt Being Primed for a Coup?
- The Somaliazation of Syria
- Western Intervention in Syria Long Overdue
- Promoting Peace, But Fueling War in Syria
- Flight of Fancy
- Would the Turkish Model Work in Arab Spring Countries?
- Kerry Talks Regional Issues With Gulf Arab Leaders
- Export Oil, Import Water: The Middle East's Risky Economics
- Syrians Risk Their Health to Keep Warm
- Evidence of Syrian Cluster Bomb Use
- Syrian Rebels Capture Most of Key City
- Iranian Nuclear Program World's 'Greatest Challenge'
- Self-Interested Leaders Roil Chaos in Middle East
Distributed via OtherWords. OtherWords.org, "The Path to Follow after Syria Crosses the Red Line"