The president’s pink line over Damascus
Date posted: May 10, 2013
You know you’re in trouble when you can’t even get your walk-back story straight. Stung by the worldwide derision that met President Obama’s fudging and fumbling of his chemical-weapons red line in Syria, the White House leaked to The New York Times that Obama’s initial statement had been unprepared, unscripted and therefore unserious.
The next day Jay Carney said precisely the opposite: “Red line” was intended and deliberate.
Which is it? Who knows? Perhaps Obama used the term last August to look tough, sound like a real world leader, never expecting that Syria would do something so crazy.
He would have it both ways: sound decisive but never have to deliver.
In his rambling news conference, Obama said that he needed certainty about the crossing of the red line to keep the “international community” behind him. This is absurd. The “international community” is a fiction, especially in Syria. Russia, Iran and Hezbollah are calling the shots.
Some countries have real red lines. Israel has no real friends on either side of this regional Sunni-Shiite conflict, but it will not permit the alteration of its strategic military balance with Hezbollah, already brimming with 60,000 rockets aimed at Israel.
The risk to Israel is less a counterattack from Damascus than from Hezbollah. Bashar al-Assad doesn’t need a new front with Israel.
Syria remembers not just its thorough defeat at the hands of Israel in 1967 and 1973 but also its humiliation in the skies over the Bekaa Valley in 1982 when it challenged Israeli air dominance.
Israel’s real concern is a Hezbollah attack. But Hezbollah has already stretched itself in by sending fighters into Syria to save Assad.
Most important, Iran, Hezbollah’s master, wants to keep Hezbollah’s missile arsenal intact and in reserve for retaliation against — and thus deterrence of -— a possible Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear program.
These are complicated, inherently risky calculations. But living in the midst of this cauldron, Israel has no choice. It must act.
America does have a choice. It can afford to stay out. And at this late date, it probably will.
Today our only hope seems to be supporting and arming Salim Idriss, the one rebel commander who speaks in moderate, tolerant tones. But he could easily turn, or could be overwhelmed by the jihadists.
Israel’s successful strikes around Damascus show that a Western no-fly zone would not require a massive Libyan-style campaign to take out all Syrian air defenses.
Syrian helicopters and planes could be grounded more simply with attacks on runways, depots and idle combat aircraft alone, carried out, if not by fighters, by cruise missile and other standoff weaponry. But even that may be too much for a president who has assured his country that the tide of war is receding.
At this late date, supporting proxies may be the only reasonable option left. It’s perversely self-vindicating. Wait long enough, and all other options disappear. As do red lines.
Charles Krauthammer writes a weekly political column for The Washington Post. He is also a Fox News commentator.