When does a red line become a red line?
President Donald Trump was asked if Syria’s chemical weapons attack on April 4 that left 87 people killed, 31 of them children, had crossed a red line? Trump responded that it indeed crossed a red line, and it crossed many lines.
And last Thursday, the U.S. responded by firing 59 missiles at Syrian airfields that destroyed aircraft in retaliation for the chemical attacks. Trump had seen the images of children gasping for air and the many dead infants due to the chemical attacks. The red line question appeared to convince Trump, who previously said the U.S. would stay out of the Syrian conflict, that something had to be done.
This same scenario occurred in 2013 when then President Barack Obama warned Syrian President Bashar Assad that his actions and the use of chemical weapons had crossed a red line. But Assad continued to use chemical weapons and Obama decided to take a more measured response. Obama even admitted years later that this was a dark period of his presidency.
The overall response to the Trump administration’s decision to bomb Syria has generally been favorable. It gives the impression that we are tough. But several days have passed and I am wondering where do we go from here? We have had other instances in American history that lines have been drawn in the sand and major decisions had to be made.
Before the U.S. got involved in World War II, we were often referred to as isolationists, caring only for our own self-interests. Rumors had been circulating that the Nazi regime in Germany had been more than just critical of Jews, foreigners and homosexuals. Critics point out that the U.S. preferred to keep a cool distance. If that was true, it was due to the fact the U.S. did not want to return to another World War I.
However, a few years passed and the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec, 7, 1941 and shocked our nation. We were now in World War II. My dad and millions of other men would soon be fighting overseas. But it took a controversial decision to bring the war to a rapid conclusion when the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs on Japan.
Since then, we have been in Vietnam, Iraq and Iraq again. And we are still in Afghanistan and Iraq. Those two wars seemingly will never end.
Obama’s approach may have been too detached when it came to Syria. But as several military officials said at the time, there are no good alternatives. That’s when you have to review our history. In this case, we did not have to look back far. Sending in troops and getting involved in the quagmire that is Syria was not an option Obama wanted to explore. Getting involved in Syria while still having troops in Afghanistan and Iraq was not something Obama wanted to do.
Even Trump at the time said that Obama should stay out of Syria. And we believe the current president does not want to get involved in a ground battle in Syria. The irony of all this is that Russia and Iran are aligned with Assad in the fight against the Islamic State, or ISIS. But the problem here is that Assad appears to have no problem gassing his own residents, which includes children. He may be fighting against ISIS but he is also wants to terminate any perceived dissidents in his country.
Since Russia is not big on human rights, they don’t care even though they pretend to. What they are concerned about is keeping Assad in power. That’s why Russia can still say that their main goal is to defeat ISIS but we know more is at stake here.
Perhaps nothing more will occur in the near future. Syrian residents are still in danger and Assad is still in power. I don’t think Trump or most of his cabinet members look long term when they have to make decisions about what needs to be done in Syria. Maybe the U.S. has made their point. We will use force if necessary when Assad uses chemical weapons.
But the violence continues in Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that more attacks occurred on Saturday in Khan Sheikhoun, the town that was previously hit with chemical weapons. According to one published report, one woman was killed and several other people were injured. This time, no chemical weapons were used.
I believe the Trump administration will proceed with caution from now on when it comes to Syria. In World War I and II, the U.S. had no other choice but to go to war. We are currently involved in two. Getting involved in Syria is a line that the U.S. does not want to cross.
Joe Boyle is the editor of The Reporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.