A World of Difference in Red Lines

Today on “Instapundit“, the blogfather posted that the Syrian “red line” on chemical weapons was set by Secretary of State Clinton on August 11, 2012 at a joint press conference in Turkey.

Well, no, not so much.  POTUS Obama was quite specific when he said the “red line” was ours, and would affect his “calculus” and our response.  What’s the difference?  Nobody took SecState Clinton’s red line seriously because she, as the U.S. SecState, was referring to the “red line” the world had set.  It’s not a meaningful statement because, simply put, “the world” in general terms doesn’t have the military means to make good on a threat;, only a nation or coalition of nations can do that, and there wasn’t a coalition either of armed nations or trading partners ready to force project and/or enforce sanctions.

The U.N. can stamp its little feet in anger or pen as many sternly-worded memos as it likes, but that won’t change the fact that it has no armed forces of it’s own; the ability to project military power is reliant entirely on the coalitions that are cobbled together by nations amongst themselves or individual nations acting alone.  Sanctions need to be agreed-to and abided-by, and enforced by coalitions, regardless of whatever binding resolutions the U.N. may pass.  So, talk of the world’s “red line” on an issue may raise an eyebrow, but always the follow-on question is “who will enforce it” – and if there’s no answer to that, then the red line is moot.  Remember back when W was POTUS, time and time again the U.N. set red lines and sent stern memos with hard deadlines to Iran about their nuclear program.  Iran blew them off, all of them, without consequence, because they were unaccompanied by a credible threat of enforcement.

When a nation sets a red line, one that specifically will be enforced by that nation – and that nation has the means to do so – then the red line has meaning.  Consequently, follow-through is necessary if red lines in diplomacy are to have any effectiveness as a warning.  What being said is, “don’t do this, or we’ll have to take drastic measures, and we don’t want that, and you especially don’t want that, so don’t do it”.  The corruption and blustering posturing of the U.N. has, over the course of decades, fully eroded its realpolitik credibility.  When we issue a red line and then let it slide, transgressor nations will consider that in the future regardless of which party holds the levers of government – this is one of the problems with how POTUS Obama handled the Syrian problem.  He put himself and our country in a box, and if he doesn’t deliver then our red lines may be perceived as having as little relevance as those of the U.N.  Because we have national interests which need defending, and a military with which to defend them, the blurring of our red lines makes armed conflict more likely.  [Granted, striking Syria at this point would of course mean that armed conflict is a certainty, but when I say that not enforcing the red line makes armed conflict more likely, I’m saying that Syria and other countries will take all of our red lines less seriously now and in the future, even the ones we mean to enforce, because they won’t be able to discern the difference between which ones are bluffs and which ones are real.]

With China and Russia (security council members, both) stating their opposition to punishing Syria for their use of chemical weapons, it’s obvious that, in fact, the “red line” on chemical weapons was more aspirational than actual, and it’s clear that it can now safely be ignored.  POTUS Obama was naive to think that it had real meaning in the real world without the enforcement mechanism – which it was up to him to have put in place before issuing the red line – but let’s put the blame for the chemical weapons atrocities which will surely follow squarely on the shoulders of China and Russia as well as the perpetrators.  We’ll have to do it ourselves, though, because liberal-leftists are loathe to cast aspersions, however justified, on leftist tyrannical governments; just look at how long they’ve carried water for Cuba.

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