“Red lines” are all the rage this year. Even as the swirl of Middle East headlines focus on Gaza and Egyptian politics, the region remains under two “red lines.” If Iran and Syria, respectively, cross the nuclear and chemical weapons thresholds, it would generate a strong, if undefined, Israeli and American response.
Washington’s red line, however, lays bare another issue: Should the executive branch have carte blanche to commit the country to military action? Secretary of State Hilliary Clinton Monday appeared to suggest so. She declared, in public remarks in Prague, that the Syrian government’s use of its chemical arsenal would be a “red line” for Washington to act.* Or is it time for Congress to make its own evaluation before the country again turns to the gun?
Let’s first recall how the red lines emerged (one literally) and why the line issued against Syria is now most concerning.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laid down the gauntlet two months ago, when talking about Iran to the United Nations General Assembly. “At this late hour,” Netanyahu declared, as he held up a rough drawing of a bomb dissected by a red line, “there is only one way to peacefully prevent Iran from getting atomic bombs. That’s by placing a clear red line on Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”
President Barack Obama had put down his Syrian red line one month earlier. “We have been very clear to the Assad regime,” Obama declared, “but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is [if] we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.”