In the 21st century, statesmen don’t shout at the leaders of other nations and threaten, “if you cross this red line, my red line because I am powerful and can hurt you, if you cross this red line which I have drawn in the sand, I will huff and puff and I’ll blow your house down.”
The apogee of all of this red line talk was when Benjamin Netanyahu, at the United Nations, drew a crude picture of a bomb with an arbitrary red line to show the point beyond which Iran can’t continue down the path to making a nuclear bomb without Israel attacking it militarily.
All this talk of red lines is silly because it is unilateral, arbitrary, and lacks any claim of legitimacy.
It’s the way some leaders might have spoken to leaders in other countries in the 19th century or earlier.
Now, things have changed. We have a United Nations Charter and well-developed rules of international law governing the use of force.
Statesmen today talk to each other in the language of international law, not the playground threats of children who don’t know yet much about rules and law and the limits society places on their behavior.
Statesmen don’t talk that way, but regrettably some national leaders still do.
All the talk about Obama’s “red lines” in Syria and whether they have been crossed constitutes one big RED HERRING.
The questions we ought to be discussing, instead of chasing the Red Herring, include the following:
1. Does the present situation in Syria, including al-Assad’s barbarism (e.g., war crimes and crimes against humanity on a massive scale), negatively affect the vital national interests of the United States, or those of its allies?
2. If so, what must be done, both alone and in conjunction with others, to defend those vital national interests?
3. How are those interests likely to be affected if no effective action is taken to halt al-Assad’s barbarism?
4. Does the United States have a vital national interest in preventing and halting the commission of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and widespread violations of fundamental human rights on a massive scale?
5. If the United States is going to act, “If not now, when?”
These are the questions people should be talking about, and not Obama’s baby talk about red lines and arguments about whether they have been crossed.
The Trenchant Observer