Red Line


By Jay B Gaskill

Having asked the Congress to validate his Red-Line ultimatum to Syrian President Assad, Mr. Obama flew to Sweden where he said: “I didn’t set a red line. The world set a red line.”

One can’t make this stuff up.


I strongly suspect that the pending red-line crisis in Syria represents the very first time that Barack Obama has ever made a serious threat, one with serious consequences for backing down or carrying it out.  We – and the world – are just observers. He is the student.

[As]…”former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin posted on social media”: ‘So we’re bombing Syria because Syria is bombing Syria? And I’m the idiot? … President Obama wants America involved in Syria’s civil war pitting the antagonistic Assad regime against equally antagonistic al-Qaeda affiliated rebels. But he’s not quite sure which side is doing what, what the ultimate end game is, or even whose side we should be on.’”

  • Quoted by Washington Post columnist, Ruben Navarrette Jr.

[President Obama] “…lectures Congress, seeking an accomplice while talking about accountability. Perhaps he deserves Congress’ complicity – if he can convince it that he can achieve a success he can define. If success is a “shot across the bow” of Syria’s regime, he cannot fail: By avoiding the bow, such a shot merely warns of subsequent actions.”


[His] “…sanctimony about his moral superiority to a Congress he considers insignificant has matched his hypocrisy regarding his diametrically opposed senatorial and presidential understandings of the proper modalities regarding uses of military force. Now he asks from the Congress he disdains an authorization he considers superfluous. By asking, however reluctantly, he begins the urgent task of lancing the boil of executive presumption. And surely he understands the perils of being denied an authorization he has sought, then treating the denial as irrelevant.”

  • George Will, writing in The Washington Post

“For Mr. Obama, national security is theater.  Mr. Obama is playing a game.  …his national security posture is a self-serving story, a tale being made up as he goes along, part of the book about himself he is writing in his head (“Dreams of my Exploits”).  [Sadly] our president is addicted to the politics of gesture.”


This President’s “red line” rhetoric has provided an opportunity for Americans to attain a long neglected measure of moral and policy clarity.  As spectators in a presidential teaching moment, we should watch closely and absorb the lessons.

Therefore we need to face the snake head on.  This is the dangerous creature called by many names, among them, the fanatical, anti-western Jihad.

Mr. Obama’s teaching moment has dragged the Congress, the Democratic Party and the country into a thicket of foreign policy incoherence, exposing US Middle East policy for the ambivalent mess that it is.

Ever since the September 11th, 2001 attacks on American soil, the USA has been caught up in a war declared by bloody-minded jihadist fanatics against Western liberal democracy. This was not a war of our choosing. But doubt not that we are actually at war.

Notwithstanding that reality, it is apparent that the policy gurus in this administration are caught up in the illusion that militant Islam can be tamed by gestures, soft words and diplomacy. In this conceit, they are Austria before the Anschluss. This reality-disconnect frames the context of our president’s teaching moment.  He hopes to authorize a retaliatory gesture utilizing US missiles and bombs against the entrenched Syrian regime. He may even fantasize that Iran will tremble.

Because we are actually at war, our situation requires a much clearer understanding of what we are fighting against. The enemy is militant pan-Islamic nationalism, driven by its followers’ audacious vision of a united Islamist superpower bestriding the Middle East like a colossus, armed with nuclear weapons, able to intimidate the decadent West and reverse the humiliations of the last century. They will not surrender.

Talk of the coming Syrian “gesture” attack takes place in a larger, graver context: We need above all, to prevent militant Islam from getting nuclear weapons, starting with Iran.  Everything else is a subordinate concern.

I suspect that this “teaching moment” is why the congressional hawks are leaning in favor of a force authorization – not because it is sufficient or even makes strategic sense, but in the faint hope that Mr. Obama will learn from the experience to be much tougher, much sooner.  But the notion that Mr. Obama can be toughened by a one-off Syrian missile strike is as unrealistic as is the administration’s delusion that Islam can be tamed by perpetual softness.




American foreign policy, whether in peace or at war, should stand on three legs:

  1. American self-interest;
  2. The moral compass that defines and guides us;
  3. A prudent regard for that which is realistically attainable.

The prospect of pursuing the forthcoming symbolic shot-across-the-bow, motivated by moral considerations only, without the realistic prospect of having any lasting real-world consequences for good or ill, teeters for lack of two of three legs of any solid, coherent foreign policy. A political gesture of this sort is neither prudent, nor in America’s self-interest.

In previous articles, I have noted that many of Mr. Obama’s missteps have been less damaging than they could have been because he has been remarkably lucky.

We should all wish President Obama good luck this time.

But I am praying for far better judgment and resolve than he and his team have so far demonstrated.


First Published on The Policy Think Site and linked Blogs.

Copyright © 2013 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

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