The United States’ response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria comes down to a question of deterrence and not necessarily the chemical weapon use. If the United States does not respond then deterrence will take a hit and this could result in serious set-backs to global security.
The United States is in this unpleasant situation because the administration claimed the use of chemical weapons is a red line that would be met with punishment. That red line has now been crossed between nine and fourteen times according to reports and if there is no response our ability to provide credible deterrence will suffer more than it has already.
The United States did not have a credible deterrent against the Assad regime to begin with for a couple reasons. First, the United States does not have a history of retaliating against the use of chemical weapons. Chemical weapons were used in the Iran-Iraq war with no repercussions. They were used by Saddam Hussein against Kurds in northern Iraq; once again with no retaliation. As previously noted, it has been used several times during the Syrian civil war with little response.
Second, Assad is no fool. He knows that after spending over a decade fighting two wars and helping rebels in Libya that the United States is war weary. The people of this nation are tired of being the world’s police. They are tired of having their sons and daughters coming back from far off lands missing limbs or in coffins. This does not make people gung-ho about getting involved in a civil war.
However, President Obama drew a red line at the use of chemical weapons and now we must act. Otherwise other red lines will mean little to our enemies. In the future our presidents should refrain from drawing red lines except for extreme circumstances such as an attack against the United States or its allies and the use of nuclear weapon; not the use of chemical weapons in a civil war. Neither Assad nor the rebels are allies of the United States, and the claim that chemical weapons kill indiscriminately does not hold water either. To push for military intervention over the use of chemical weapons is to suggest that a cruise missile or a drone do not kill innocent civilians.
It would be a better use of resources to provide aid to the nations that have been over-run by refugees fleeing the civil war.