Washington Post seems to be right when it criticizes Obama Administration for not honoring it's own 'red lines'. President Obama must be aware that anytime a President issues 'red lines'; he has to ensure that there are consequences in defying those red lines. If not, 'power crumbles'; President's word carries no weight with pretty negative consequences all across the board instantly. That serves American People very poorly. This is all Politics 101 in President Obama's language.
One can understand why White House would be reluctant to undertake any action here:
- American Public in general is still not disposed favorably towards any 'military intervention abroad'.
- No one wants to repeat Bush Iraq War mistakes. (President Obama cannot be lost on the 'optics' when he is joining other living Presidents in dedication of George Bush Library; essentially the place which will chronicle in details how wrong an American President has been when it comes to 'foreign intervention'.)
- In general there is less clarity in terms of what exact decisive intervention America can undertake without having 'boots on the ground' when Syrian Opposition is neither unified nor aligned with Western interests.
- Finally, Administration might be exploring a possibility of genuine 'collective action with Russia' to make a real difference on ground rather than engaging in any loud public announcements. If it means giving an appearance of 'lax Administration' for a while, so be the case. If such are the calculations of Administration, it might not be all bad then.
The critical question is what can America do to avoid further slaughtering of civilians in Syria now that the number might be approaching 70,000 and Assad Regime quite possibly using chemical weapons; all while keeping America's engagement at distance (meaning no American soldiers inside Syria). Few things come to mind:
- Work with UNSC to get UN inspectors in Syria as early as possible to ascertain usage of chemical weapons. The idea is to make a public case of how discredited Assad Regime is; making it virtually impossible for any other nation to stand with Assad Regime.
- To explore a possibility of joint USA-Russia brokered regime change in Syria in expedited manner rather than at glacial speed of international diplomacy.
- Continue to work with Arab States (Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan) and Turkey who sponsor major militias opposing Assad to consolidate their structure, to weed out Al-Qeda elements in those resistance forces and generally making them capable of governance in post-Assad Syria. Kerry's State Department has an opportunity to subtly exert pressure on these militias to move in right directions via newly expanded American aid to Syria.
Syria will be one critical test for President Obama and his Administration in terms of avoiding mistakes of Bush Iraq War but at the same time avoiding regrets like of Bill Clinton when America completely ignored genocide in Rwanda. Beyond a humanitarian case, stakes in Syria with ripple effects on rest of the unstable Middle East are higher for America compared to America's interests in Rwanda circa 1990s.