Drawing red lines or, by attacking, implying them

To draw, or not to draw–that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the body politic 
To shift and squirm around pre-drawn lines
Or to take to arms, all unforeseen, 
And by attacking, imply them

Just as with Obama, I don’t think that Trump has a very clear Syria strategy – yet. What he probably does have is a cloudy vision of where he would like the US to be. Whereas Obama kept drawing red lines in the sand and then kept shifting them to avoid action, Trump has not bothered with drawing any lines. Instead his strike against Assad’s airfield has just demonstrated that there are undrawn lines which, if crossed, triggers a retaliation. He has just not bothered with months of circular debate, creating “coalitions” of the good or “sexing up of dossiers” for the UN Security Council. (As an aside, there is a zero possibility of the UN subjecting the US to any sanctions for any alleged infringement of international law.) Trump’s red lines are implied and the onus is on his opponents to try and figure out where they are. It is not impossible that even Trump does not know quite where they are until they are crossed.

Trump achieves a number of things with his cruise missile strike, not all intentional perhaps.

  1. Syria and Iran and North Korea, among others, now have to guess where Trump’s red lines actually are.
  2. If Assad felt he could now act with impunity (whether he was responsible for the gas attack or not), he now knows that it is unsafe to cross Trump’s undrawn lines.
  3. Assad could begin to seriously address when and how he withdraws.
  4. Kim Jong Un gets a clear message that he could be subject to a “personally targeted” surgical strike if he crosses some unknown line.

 


 

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