President Obama recently fell into a classic trap, similar to one many teachers and parents find themselves when dealing with unruly children – the red line. It’s a common mistake that children love to take advantage of. Well-meaning parents and teachers create a situation where their authority can be undermined quickly. Being a teacher myself, I have often found that when telling a student what not to do, the hormone-ravaged teenage delinquent student does exactly that.
Syrian President Bashar Al Assad is not unlike a hormone-ravaged teenage delinquent in this regard. Little Bashar has wreaked havoc in his classroom so the teacher has given him a last warning. “Bashar, if you throw one more pencil you will get suspended.”
Regardless of whether the teacher has the ability to act is irrelevant at that point. All Bashar can think about is embarrassing the teacher and impressing his friends, so he launches another pencil at the back of poor little Sally’s head. The red line has been crossed, and now the teacher must act lest he or she loses control of the entire classroom for the year. Chaos will spill into the hallway.
On March 21st President Obama gave Al Assad his red line. “We will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people, or the transfer of those weapons to terrorists."
Just this week Israeli and American intelligence agencies discovered that Syrian troops have used Sarin gas on their own civilian populace. The United States and Israel are nervous about these weapons falling into the hands of Al Qaeda or Hezbollah, both of whom are active in Syria.
The president has no choice but to act on this threat, and it appears that he has begun to move in that direction. In mid April he sent 200 troops to nearby Jordan as the “vanguard” of a possible force of 20,000 strong for tentative action in Syria. According to the LA Times, the 1st Armored Division has been sent to northern Jordan as a humanitarian force to deal with refugees from nearby war-torn Syria.
Should 20,000 troops arrive in the heart of the Middle East, it would send quite a message to Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers. The Russians would panic that America found its backbone again. Iran may scrap their program for fear of intervention in their own country.
But let’s be honest here. Does anyone in the United States, let alone the Middle East, believe the president will order an invasion of another Middle Eastern nation?
Obama’s Middle Eastern policy puts him in a difficult position to send such a force. His supporters cannot stomach another Middle Eastern incursion, yet he cannot let Assad’s red line crossing go unpunished. What happens next? Anyone for another round of sanctions?
I may be wrong, but the likelihood of American troops invading Syria under Obama’s watch is as likely as a mullet-comeback in men’s hair fashion. If I’m wrong I will grow a mullet. But I have three solid pieces of evidence for behaving like this. Obama’s Middle Eastern policy, the squirming of this administration regarding Syrian action, and the Bible’s predictions of an isolated Middle East (particularly Israel).
Disclaimer: NATO airstrikes or other non-invasion actions against military targets do not count as a significant American invasion. Should that happen no mullet should be required.
Obama’s Middle Eastern Foreign Policy
The president has spent considerable time touting his victories -- over McCain, Romney, and the beloved installment of Obamacare to name a few. But the death of Osama Bin Laden tops them all and has become a permanent fixture in “Obama-ite” talking points. It may have even won him re-election.
The September 2012 debacle in Libya gained such little attention in media circles because the War on Terror was over. The media praised their beloved hero with shouts of “Obama got Bin Laden.” That was the end of any pertinent discussion on the continued perils of terrorism. By the time the Libyan fiasco hit the fan, the mainstream media was too busy analyzing Romney’s tax returns and wondering what he had in all those “binders full of women.”
Yes, we caught Bin Laden under his watch, yet no matter how often the president and his allies declare the War on Terrorism over, the Boston bombings remind us that terrorism is not yet defeated.
Yes, the president ended the war in Iraq, but not without the blueprints left by his predecessor. The war in Afghanistan continues, but there are plans to leave within the next year or two. We are leaving that part of the world to it’s own desires.
The general attitude of this administration towards the Middle East is simple, “we have overstayed our welcome and we are leaving, good luck.” Under this administration, the world’s superpower has grown accustomed to willfully ignoring the chaos in the Middle East.
Have we found the culprits who destroyed our embassy in Libya? Eight months later there are no arrests for the gruesome murder of four Americans, including our Ambassador. Sovereign US territory was attacked and the best we could do was send an FBI team weeks later to investigate the crime scene. The only arrest made on the case was a Tunisian man who was recently let go. The message is clear: Go ahead, kill Americans and attack an embassy. Nothing will happen to you.
We have turned a blind eye to the nuclear program in Iran as well. Israeli pleadings for American airstrikes on Iranian sites have fallen on deaf ears. Our weapon of choice is sanctions. These economic punishments have only emboldened the Ayatollah’s to press on toward their goal. How many red lines have the Iranians crossed in their quest for nuclear weapons? Too many to count.
But Americans are tired of war. Iraq and Afghanistan sapped the fire out of many Americans when it comes to foreign incursions. A key pillar of the Democratic Party is the anti-war bloc. The president knows this. Democrats hoping to keep their seats in the 2014 elections know this as well.
Pinpointed airstrikes are a likely possibility, and may be tolerated by the American public but they may not be enough to upend Assad’s regime or stop the use of chemical weapons. Worse, destroying the Syrian military without filling the vacuum may open the door to Al Qaeda backed rebel groups to fill the void. If we are going to do this, we need to do it right.
A New Red Line for Syria
The scrambling for a new "red line" began soon after American policy makers realized Bashar al Assad called the President’s bluff.
“There’s not enough evidence that chemical weapons were used,”
“We need to wait for more clear intel.”
As they realized the gravity of the situation this red line had thrust upon them in, someone in the brain trust came up with a new red line for the president to issue.
Just this week Obama stated “We cannot stand by and permit the systematic use of weapons like chemical weapons on civilian populations.”
Notice the change? What exactly does systematic mean? One time? Two times? A once a week habit?
It is doubtful that the recent chemical attack by Assad’s forces was the first time he used this trick. He has the world’s largest stockpile of chemical weapons. What else was he going to do with them?
By employing his favorite wiggle experts, Obama has shrewdly given himself a little time to decide what to do about this red line of his. Unfortunately for the Syrian people, “systematic” translates into, “the next time chemical weapons are used I will help you…maybe.”
The Biblical future of the Middle East
Scripture does not give us answers to Syria’s immediate future. What is evident from the Bible is that the United States will not always be a player in Middle Eastern politics.
If we are approaching the End Times, we are likely to see an American retreat from the Middle East for good.
In Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39, God foretells of a massive invasion of the Middle East that will take place in the latter days. Israel will be the primary target, but we could envision a northern superpower bent on capturing oil and other prizes in the Middle East as well. Despite the eschatological disagreements amongst Protestant Christian groups, one thing about the future is clear – the US cavalry will not come riding in to save the day.
The Western world will not confront the invaders. The great superpower of Earth, the United States, will merely protest the invasion of one of her oldest allies. No military action will be sent to the aid of Israel (or Syria for that matter). God Himself will intervene with the supernatural destruction of this invading army.
As it stands, America’s Middle Eastern allies may have to get used to life without the protection of the United States. Eventually the ultimate protector, Jesus Christ, will return to earth and establish a perfect peace. Until then the Middle East will remain a lawless and dangerous place.
Hopefully I am wrong. President Obama will blast the Syrian military back to the age of Mohammad with a withering series of airstrikes. This might be followed by a UN sanctioned army of peacekeeping forces led by the United States. The Syrian people will be rescued from Bashad’s grasp and systematically democratized without the violence of Iraq or the radicalization of Egypt. All will be well in that land. Hopefully I will be donning a mullet in the next few months.
Jeremy Stevens is a historian, author, and teacher. His latest book, "So What Happens Next? Exploring Biblical Prophecies to Make Sense of Today's Chaos" is available at all participating bookstores.