Two other issues are relevant. It is never stated what lies beyond the “red line” or what “changing the calculus” means in practice or what would result from a “game changer.” The slaughter of at least 75,000 people in Syria clearly was not a game changer. The lack of definition, if not deliberate obscurity, about these phrases suggests equivocation or perhaps the hypocritical deception or lack of uncontaminated sincerity that so often is a part of political life. It recalls the ambiance of the famous maxim of the Duc de La Rochefoucauld that “hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue.”
The other issue is the hesitation about unilateral action. It is desirable that the U.S. should consult with its allies and with some Middle Eastern countries, and that any non-lethal aid should be coordinated by them. Yet the hesitation suggests that the goalposts for American policy have been moved and inaction is more likely than action. The quest for ironclad proof inevitably leads to indecision and probably to frustration of allied countries who look to the U.S. for leadership.
Of course U.S. decision-making on Syria is complex in that there may be little to choose between the desperate Assad regime and opposition forces which include some extreme Islamists and perhaps adherents of al Qaeda. Political deals and compromises may well be necessary. Nevertheless, words should have consequences.
Almost a century ago, Walter Lippmann in his book Political Opinion explained the world of politics was too complex and abstract to be directly experienced and that public communication was thus necessary. The political metaphors concerning Syria communicated by Obama should be backed up by action. American policy should not be indifferent to moral good or evil. It should remember the original metaphor, the “thin red line,” referred to the courageous stand of a red-coated British regiment at the Battle of Balaclava in October 1854 during the Crimean War, that defeated the much larger Russian cavalry force by standing firm and thus became a symbol for barriers against aggressors.
Originally published at The American Thinker.