Sometimes you just have to write…

Syria and the “red line”

SyriawordleI’m still on the fence about Syria: I don’t know whether “we” (which seems to mean whatever part of the world agrees) should intervene or not.

What puzzles me is why this debate is happening now. Someone in Syria, probably Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government, used poisoned gas to kill something like 1400 people, including 400 children (although some estimates put the death toll much lower). No one would disagree that it was a horrendous deed, a crime against humanity.

But Syrians have been killing each other for more than two years now: more than 100,000 people have died in this civil war, and there are more than two million refugees in neighboring countries who’ve fled the fighting.

What makes those 1400 dead more important than the 100,000 who died before that? President Obama calls chemical and biological weapons a “red line,” the last straw.

Certainly it’s a concern if those chemical weapons are available to any random fanatic with murderous intentions. If that’s the point, if that’s the reason we’re considering attacking Syria, then it would make some sense to attack and destroy the places where these chemical weapons are produced.

But that’s not what seems to be under discussion here. “We” are talking about punishment: if the Syrian government used chemical weapons, they should be punished.

The implication here is important: chemical weapons go too far, so we will punish you for using them. In other words, everything you did before you used the chemical weapons is acceptable. That 100,000 people both sides have already killed? That’s okay. Yes, we know some large percentage of that 100,000 was probably children too, but it’s just an internal affair; it doesn’t concern us. We won’t try to stop you or the rebels from killing each other, unless you use chemical weapons again! 

It seems to me that if we draw the “red line” at the use of “weapons of mass destruction” like poison gas, we are implicitly accepting every other form of killing: machine guns, bombing, grenades, whatever, no matter how “mass” their “mass destruction” is. Is that really what we want to tell Syria, or, for that matter, the world?


2 comments on “Syria and the “red line”

  1. Lisa Mallis
    September 9, 2013

    Rachel –

    Interesting perspective . . . when you draw a line (and not just with the events in Syria) any line, it certainly does imply that everything that came before is acceptable. Like when you “count to 3” with your kids . . . oops mom’s mad now. . . it’s the last thing that’s unacceptable, they lose sight that it’s really all of it!

    I appreciate your thoughts!


    • Rachel Heller
      September 9, 2013

      Yes, exactly! I see that as a teacher every day. You let them know where your boundaries are, and they learn not to cross them, but then they assume that everything before that point is acceptable.

      So if Assad was clever, he could have admitted responsibility and apologized, or else blamed it on an underling, and then gone back to what he was doing without fear of intervention, since he’d be back behind the red line!

      Thanks for commenting!

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This entry was posted on September 8, 2013 by in Current events and tagged , , , .
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