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Syria, Obama and "Red Lines"

We have heard Obama speak about "red lines" in determining whether, and how and if to become involved in the ongoing war raging in Syria.

The critical question is....what does that all mean?

Richard Falk is Albert G. Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University and Visiting Distinguished Professor in Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is also the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights.

Falk writes on Information Clearing House:

"There are widespread reports that President Obama had not fully appreciated the political consequences of responding to a question at an August press conference that asked about the consequences of the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime. Obama replied that such a use would be to cross "a red line". Such an assertion was widely understood to be a threat either to launch air strikes or to provide rebel forces with major direct military assistance, including weaponry.

There have been sketchy reports that Syria did make some use of chemical weapons, as well as allegations that the reported use was "a false flag" operation, designed to call Obama's bluff. As the New York Times notes in a front page story on May 7, Obama "finds himself in a geopolitical box, his credibility at stake with frustratingly few good option".

Such a policy dilemma raises tactical issues of how to intervene without risking serious involvement in yet another Middle Eastern war. It also raises delicate questions of presidential leadership in a highly polarised domestic political atmosphere, readily exploited by belligerent Republican politicians backed by a rabid media that always seem to be pushing Obama to pursue a more muscular foreign policy in support of America's global interests."




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"What is strange is that Obama talks the talk, but seems unwilling to walk the walk. Such a disjunction invites cynicism about law and morality and induces despair on the part of those of us who believe the world we inhabit badly needs red lines, but the right red lines.

Redrawing the red lines that fit the realities of our world and keep alive hopes for peace and justice should be the great diplomatic undertaking of our time, the visionary projects of leading diplomats whose imaginative gaze extends beyond addressing immediate threats. The old red lines have been cast aside in contemplating what to do in relation to Syria, but without trying to establish new red lines that can serve humanity well in our disorienting century."

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