Obama’s “Red Line” in Syria never amounted to anything and still doesn’t. The term may sound like a hard and fast line in the sand, but the definition of what the red line is has moved around so many times that it barely has any meaning.
The original talk of a red line involved the transportation and preparation of chemical weapons. That line was already crossed. But what was going to happen when the line was crossed?
To quote Obama at various times, it would be a “grave mistake”, would not be tolerated and “That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.” All that sounds properly butch, but in true Obama fashion is also vague enough to mean nothing. The red line is the line at which Obama’s calculus equation changes into a grave intolerable mistake or something.
The only absolutely compelling reason for intervention would be the sense that the Syrian rebels are about to lose for good. Panic at the possibility that Gaddafi would win is what compelled Sarkozy, Cameron and Obama to jump into the Libyan War. For now the Syrian rebels are nowhere near defeat.
It’s not impossible that Obama Inc. will use the reports of chemical weapons to switch to direct military aid to the rebels or even establish a No Fly Zone that will allow the Allies to act as the air force of the Sunni Jihad, but it’s not the likeliest outcome. Syria is even messier than Libya and even the likes of Cameron, Hollande and Obama know it.
Whatever did happen in Syria is equally messy and confusing. We know it’s not anything on the scale of the Halabja attack which killed thousands of civilians in ways blatantly related to chemical weapons use complete with mass eyewitness testimony and bodies. If anything it’s closer to the reported Turkish use of chemical weapons in Iraq, not too long ago, against Kurdish rebels. Turkey is on the Bomb Syria side these days, but if Syria is to be held accountable for using chemical weapons against insurgents, so should Turkey.
Even Hagel is describing the supposed use of chemical weapons as being on a small scale. That raises the question of why the Syrian government would bother using chemical weapons to take out dozens or at most hundreds of fighters. And considering how scattered and decentralized the Sunni Jihadists tend to be, hundreds is debatable.
It’s possible that Assad is testing Obama’s red line with small steps. It’s also possible that central command is breaking down in Syria and different parts of the military are protecting areas that they have family connections to by any means necessary. And it’s also possible that it never happened.
Whether it did or it didn’t, the real red line for intervention when it comes to chemical weapons would either be their use on a large scale or attempts to transfer them to Hezbollah.
Hagel’s suddenly chummy visit to Israel with a seeming green light for unilateral action on Iran and the Israeli claims of chemical weapons use suggest that an indirect message is being sent by Obama to the Shiite axis. Israel’s apology to Turkey gave it an oddball place in the coalition as a club with which to threaten Iran and Syria. It’s hardly a great position, but Netanyahu is taking what he’s being given in the new order that includes a coalition between the Gulfies and the Muslim Brotherhood and the White House.
The bottom line though is that Obama isn’t that eager to commit to any real action. None of the allies are. They want the Syrian rebels to finish the job and they are prepared to see more weapons come their way. But they aren’t ready for Iraq War II or III. Especially not when the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which by many accounts happens to be the real government of Iran, is fighting on the ground.
So whether or not Assad unleashed the chemical beast, the red line is still mostly vapor. Obama is gun shy about another war. He may get on board with a No Fly Zone, eventually, but the timing is poor right now for anything more than another propaganda offensive.