President Barack Obama is facing criticism because he has backed off on his talk of a “red line” when it comes to Assad’s regime using chemical weapons against his own people now that there is evidence that he has done so. Many people are saying that Obama is destroying US credibility by not following through on his implied threat to intervene militarily in the Syrian civil war.
All this talk of a “red line” with chemical weapons is a pointless distraction. The reality is that Assad has killed at least seventy thousand of his own people. Whether he massacres the Syrians with chemical weapons, bombs, guns, or rusty spoons, seventy thousand people are dead. The means used aren’t nearly as important as the end result.
To put this in perspective, about three thousand people were killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks against the United States. This terrible attack was the justification behind the invasion of Afghanistan. Assad has killed more than twenty-three times that many people, and we sit and do nothing. Why?
The first and most sacred responsibility of any government is to protect the lives of its own people. When a state fails to do this and instead turns its power against its citizens, then the international community has the responsibility to step in and act. The responsibility to protect (R2P) principle was used as the justification for the intervention in Libya, where only one-third as many people lost their lives as in Syria.
The real question here is not the “red line” of chemical weapons. The real question is what is the value of human life, and what is the value of the lives of people who were not born American citizens? What Obama is effectively saying by his inaction isn’t about credibility; it is that America doesn’t care if people die by the tens of thousands, as long as there are not Americans filling the body bags. That is a far more disturbing thought.