There’s a question I’d like to ask Barack Obama right now: Where does a red line become a green light?
You’ve guessed, of course, because the answer is self-evident… in Syria.
Nonetheless, I’d be interested to hear how the US President unhooks himself off a peg he fashioned a year ago, when, in sternly unambiguous language, he warned dictator Bashar al-Assad a red line would be crossed if ever biological weapons were moved, let alone unleashed on the Syrian people.
Yet, even before last week’s horrific massacre that probably took at least several hundred lives, Obama knew the Demon of Damascus had already employed his chemical arsenal to lethal effect more than once.
And, though, as yet, there isn’t incontestable proof Assad wasn’t embolden to repeat the war crime on a far grander scale, the finger of suspicion points inexorably in his direction.
However, there are caveats. Aided by Iranian Republican Guards and Hezbollah cutthroats, government forces are reportedly crushing the opposition. And, with UN arms inspectors in town to check the scenes of earlier gassing incidents, it’s a questionable moment to re-deploy deadly nerve agents.
Contrarily, maybe in his Machiavellian mindset, Assad is counting on the swirling fog of civil war to cloud culpability and/or deliberately tweak Obama’s nose, knowing his allies, Russia and China, will parry any UN censure.
They did exactly that last Wednesday, rendering a Security Council statement gutless. However, in the light of international condemnation, Russia has been forced to back calls for a probe, even if Vladimir Putin still insists his pet tyrant isn’t the guilty party.
And it is not outside the realm of possibility that the motley rebels – especially battle-hardened jihadis, sprinkled with Al-Qaeda affiliates – concocted a ‘false flag’ black op to smear the Assad regime, not that it any needs help in cloaking itself in further opprobrium.
But, if Obama drew a red line in the Syrian sand and someone took this as a green light to act in gross defiance, what price the warning from the leader of the free world?
All we’ve heard is Obama has – finally! – asked his generals to ‘provide all options for all contingencies’, as he views the worsening situation with ‘grave concern.’
Understandably, after Iraq and Afghanistan, the West doesn’t want any more complicated adventures on Muslim soil or another gung-ho president in the mould of G. ‘Dubya’ Bush.
Yet, after seeing the hope that began as the Arab Spring lurch into an Islamic Winter and now serial slaughter, what is not required is a vacillating, over-conciliatory, moralising poseur, who talks the talk but patently fails to walk the walk.
And, while Obama may be the coolest dude to occupy the Oval Office, for all his theatrical gravitas, he’s in danger of becoming the lamest duck President since bumbling Jimmy Carter, which takes some underachieving.
He signalled this potentiality from the very start of his first term in office, when his initial foray overseas was to Cairo, where he made a grovelling speech, which the Arab world predictably scoffed at.
Since then, where Middle East matters are concerned, Obama has rarely put a foot right.
Admittedly, his options with Syria are now limited, particularly since he muffed the chance to be effectual a year ago, before the conflict became the magnet for every turbaned headbanger with an AK47 to hitch a camel-ride and join the carnage.
That lost window of opportunity would have afforded the West the chance to supply the then mainly moderate rebels at least with light arms plus anti-tank ordnance and prod the bunglers of the Arab League into helping clean up a mess in their own back yard.
Instead, like the legal geek he is, Obama navel-gazed, preferring to wag a reproving finger at Bashar The Basher and mutter darkly about ‘red lines’.
Well, one way or another, they have been crossed and, as the US Commander In Chief huffs and puffs, Vladimir Putin unfailingly delivers macho support to the Assad mafia, however disingenuous Russia’s morally-bankrupt motives are.
Britain and France, meanwhile, seem up to the challenge of trying to stop the Syrian madness escalating into a mini-holocaust – the death-count is already beyond 100,000 and largely composed of innocent civilians, many of them children – though UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague, doesn’t specify what sort of intervention he has in mind.
It might mean establishing no-fly zones to checkmate Assad’s MIGs or bombing his missile batteries, as the RAF and French air force did to help oust Muammar Gaddafi in Libya; conversely, it could involve selectively arming rebels, but ensuring weaponry doesn’t reach those seeking to impose an anti-Western, Sharia paradise on Syria; or it may mean diplomatically arm-twisting Russia and China to bring Assad to the peace talks table.
It should not mean, as Hague and his French counterpart, Laurent Fabius, have been at pains to stress, Western troops on the ground.
But at least they are talking robustly in a test for the West inflicted by the rhetoric of an American leader, who, so far, seems to display no real stomach for a fight.
So I suggest Obama recalls what he said on August 20, 2012, and, if he doesn’t, here’s a reminder:-
‘We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilised. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.’
Now the world waits with mounting urgency to hear what the President’s solution is, before droves more innocents die in Syria.
If something positive isn’t quickly forthcoming, I suggest Obama pops into the White House kitchen, butter two slices of bread, insert his words in between and eats them.