Monday, August 26, 2013

Red Line or Gray Line?

We have come to the point on this blog, I feel, where Syria needs no introduction. Things have been escalating for months, even years now, and the death toll has surpassed 100,000 faster than many similar conflicts in the past. Vicky wrote last Wednesday about the newest development in the never-ending Syrian tragedy: the alleged use of chemical weapons. As Vicky mentioned, these are as of now allegations; the UN is investigating them as I write this article, and, as Vicky also mentioned, any UN results from the investigation will not include whether it was Asad's troops or rebel soldiers that actually used the chemical weapons.

However, this is most certainly a game changer. Reports this morning indicated that Britain is preparing to launch a naval attack on Syria, with the cooperation of the U.S. and possibly France. President Obama long ago mentioned the phrases "chemical weapons" and "red line" in the same sentence, and while he has yet to act on his supposed red line, this may be the breaking point.

There was an unfortunate coincidence today in the news though, which may have significant ramifications for the Obama Administration and the decision of whether or not to go to war. In an exclusive report, the IR publication Foreign Affairs reported this morning that newly declassified CIA documents indicate that the United States was aware, and may even have supported chemical attacks Saddam Hussein waged on Iran from his neighboring Iraq in the late 1980s. 

As the report states, the U.S. may have had clear proof of Saddam's chemical attacks as early as 1983. Furthermore, prior to the Iranian offensive in the spring of 1988, the reports indicate that the U.S. government provided Iraq with substantial intel on where and how the Iranian offensive would transpire, thus setting the stage for more calculate, and accurate chemical attacks.

Now obviously, President Reagan and President Obama are entirely different people, and U.S. foreign policy has evolved drastically since the 1980s. However, this does raise skepticism about the use of chemical weapons as cause for this country to involve itself in a war that virtually no other development would cause it to involve itself in. If chemical warfare is as horrific and inhumane as President Kerry said in his press conference earlier today, why was it acceptable two decades ago?

President Obama's red line is nothing more than a gray line - the vague and undefined division between two drastic U.S. foreign policy decisions. Whereas allegations that were more or less substantiated months ago regarding chemical weapons yielded no concrete decisions, in a matter of several days President Obama now seems prepared to surge into combat despite the repercussions  of ten years in Iraq and Afghanistan. As its own entity, it appears the U.S. does not have a much better track record. In the matter of thirty years, our government has gone from essentially endorsing chemical warfare to endless vitriol when allegations of such an attack (with an unknown attacker) are reported.

The decisions Obama makes on Syria will be some of the most important ones of his entire presidency. Indecisiveness on how to engage Syria may seem appropriately cautious, but it is nothing more than timid flip-flopping. I believe in the end Obama will make the right choices in regards to Asad and his government, but for the meantime, his timidity scares me. Revelations of U.S. participation in chemical warfare just several decades ago will not help his case or ours, either.

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