The Magazine

The Nonexistent Red Line

Jan 28, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 19 • By LEE SMITH
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And even if it wanted to, said chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, how would it know when to move against chemical weapons? “You would have to have such clarity of intelligence,” said Dempsey, “persistent surveillance, you’d have to actually see it before it happened, and that’s—that’s unlikely, to be sure.” Therefore, said Dempsey, “The act of preventing the use of chemical weapons would be almost unachievable.”

In sum: The White House wouldn’t know if Assad were about to use chemical weapons, couldn’t be sure if he had used chemical weapons, and in any case isn’t going to do anything about chemical weapons until Assad leaves. In reality then, the president has no red lines for Assad.

Worse yet is what Obama’s empty bluster on Syria portends for the administration’s Iran policy. Obama says he means not to contain the Islamic Republic’s nuclear weapons, but to prevent Tehran from acquiring them. Actions, however, speak louder than words. His new cabinet picks, John Kerry, Chuck Hagel, and John Brennan, are all longtime advocates of engagement with rogue regimes—without any fallback plan in the predictable event that talking to the mullahs comes to nothing, as it has for more than 30 years. With his Syria policy, Obama is in effect telling the Islamic Republic that if engagement doesn’t work, if sanctions don’t make the regime reconsider, then he’ll do nothing to stop them.

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