A Tale of Two Red Lines
"Netanyahu warns enemies not to test Israel's strength"
On September 1st, an article appeared in the Times of Israel (emphasis mine):
"Netanyahu warns enemies not to test Israel's strength"
Speaking hours after US President Barack Obama delayed a military strike at Syria pending a Congressional vote, [Israel Prime Minister Benyamin] Netanyahu declared that "Israel is calm and confident. Our citizens know that we are well prepared for any circumstance."
He added: The citizens also should be aware that our enemies have very good reasons not to test our strength and might. They know why."
And so does the rest of the world, because when Benyamin Netanyahu warns an enemy that Israel will do something and states the conditions that will cause her to do it, that enemy -- and anyone else within earshot of the Israeli prime minister's words -- knows that he means it.
And when the current President of the United States, Barack Obama, speaks? Ummmm... not so much. Or as Elliott Abrams recently expressed it:
Middle Easterners are keen students of power... They know that no one, from Khamenei to Assad to Putin to Chavez, has ever seemed to fear Barack Obama; no one has been deterred from crossing him.
Let us speak, then, of red lines. In my view, there are two kinds: the kind drawn by this man...
... and the kind drawn by this man...
Netanyahu's UN speech was hardly the first time the prime minister warned the international community about Iran's nuclear weapons program. He's been sounding the alarm for years and during that time, military experts and politicians around the world have speculated on whether Israel possesses the military wherewithal to reach Iran, let alone destroy Iran's nuclear facilities once she gets there.
But no one doubts Israel's, or Netanyahu's, resolve. So, the mullahs' rhetoric regarding Israel's "strength and might" notwithstanding, no Iranian seems particularly eager test it by crossing Netanyahu's red line. The mullahs may be mad, but they're not that mad. Nor do I seriously expect either Syria or Hizb'allah to launch any serious attacks on Israel, should we attack Syria.
On the other hand, Bashar Assad, from what this writer can see, doesn't seem overly concerned about a U.S. military response to his use of chemical weapons on his own people. And who can blame him? What should he reasonably expect from Commander-in-Chief Barack Obama? A few cruise missiles, none of which will be targeted specifically at him? The destruction of a few storage facilities from which he will have had ample time to relocate his arsenal while Obama was making up his mind? A couple of days, maybe three, of mini-shock and micro-awe before going back to business in the killing fields where more than 100,000 have already died?
Sure looks that way to me. Because there is no method to Obama's madness. There is no grand plan, no strategy, no military objective, such as, say, toppling Assad or at least weakening him. This is strictly a matter of credibility: Obama's and, sadly, because he is the president, America's.
Obama recklessly drew a line in the Syrian sand regarding the use of chemical weapons, never dreaming that Assad would cross it. Now that Assad has, in fact, crossed Obama's red line, Obama is stuck -- and we, by extension, are stuck, too -- with a limited set of options, none good, with the possible exception of one by General Jack Kean (ret.). As described by Charles Krauthammer in a recent column:
The only defensible action would be an attack with a strategic purpose, a sustained campaign aimed at changing the balance of forces by removing the Syrian regime's decisive military advantage -- air power.
Of Assad's 20 air bases, notes retired Gen. Jack Keane, six are primary. Attack them: the runways, the fighters, the helicopters, the fuel depots, the nearby command structures. Render them inoperable.
Changing the balance of forces in Syria, however, would bring its own consequences, consequences that might seriously distract Obama from goal of turning America into a euro-socialist paradise or, even worse, from his golf game. So I would not expect Obama to take General Keane's advice, though I would love to be surprised. Assad's cruelties, to date, justify his removal -- with extreme prejudice, if necessary. We can worry about what beast slouches into Damascus to be born after he's gone, or dead, later -- and let us hope that the next president, unlike this one, has the competence to tame that beast or at least hold it at bay.
But there's also an important question to be answered here, which is, how did we get to this point in the first place? We are thousands of miles from Syria. Syria cannot pose any serious threat to us. Israel, on the other hand, is Syria's neighbor, sitting well within Syrian missile range and clearly threatened by Assad's chemical arsenal.
And yet, we're the ones led by a president struggling to extricate himself from a "box that he made"? How can this be? What is the difference between the Israelis and us?
Could it be the difference between a strong and effective leader, a leader who admired Ronald Reagan and who has clearly learned Reagan's lesson of "peace through strength"; and a weak and incompetent leader who believes in "peace through appeasement" and who, even after four-and-a-half-years as President of the United States, has learned nothing?
Could it be the difference between a forthright and eloquent leader of a nation smaller than Lake Michigan, to whom, when he speaks, the whole world listens; and a weak and vacillating leader of the most powerful nation in history, the world's only superpower, to whom, when he speaks, no one listens?
Could it be the difference between a leader who knows when, where and how to draw a red line and who has the gravitas to make it stick; and one who doesn't, and hasn't?