President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, warned his Russian counterpart last week that “to capitalize on any possible Russian decision chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine‘ would have ‘consequences’.
This White House lacks any credibility to make such a threat – as our allies in the Middle East well know.
The last time a US president tried to dissuade a despot from using chemical weapons in a bloody conflict was in 2013, when Sullivan’s former boss, President Barack Obama, warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against it Attacks on the Syrian people with chemical weapons would amount to a “red line” beyond which “enormous consequences.”
Assad ignored Obama’s warning. He finally performed Dozens of chemical attacks against his own people. Obama (and his Vice President Joe Biden) were hoping for overwhelming international support to intervene. But Europe was divided, so Obama turned to Congress and then decided against pushing for Congressional approval. In the end, the President resigned, destroying any credibility America had in the Middle East.
One can only imagine how this display of indecisiveness affected Russian ruler Vladimir Putin, who was trying to reduce American influence in the region.
When it became clear that Obama would not intervene, Putin made his move. He sent planes into Syria, targeting the Sunni rebels who threatened Assad’s rule. From there, Putin deployed ground personnel who fought alongside Syrian forces, as well as fighters from the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians lost their lives. Many more were expelled.
The 2013 Red Line episode not only allowed Assad to stay in power to commit crimes against humanity. It also allowed Putin to cycle up to 63,000 Military personnel in and out of Syria over the years. They gained valuable experience on the battlefield, which they are now using in Ukraine.
But the negative consequences didn’t end there. After moving to Syria, Putin deployed his formidable S-400 anti-aircraft systems to patrol the Syrian skies. This tied Israel’s hands, which had to increasingly launch airstrikes in Syria thanks to the Islamic Republic of Iran’s massive arms smuggling operation.
Iran has taken advantage of the fog of war in Syria, using the battlefield to covertly bring precision-guided munitions to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Never before has a non-state actor acquired PGMs. There could be significant consequences if Hezbollah acquires enough of it. They would allow the terrorist group to attack strategic targets across Israel with deadly accuracy, and they could even evade Israel’s Iron Dome system. With enough PGMs, Hezbollah may one day wage a destructive war in Israel.
As expected, the Israelis have become alarmed. In recent years they have performed thousands of attacks against Iranian and Hezbollah targets in Syria. For the Israelis, this is a matter of urgency of national security. But for this they need to resolve the conflict with the Russian military. Indeed, as a result of the 2013 Red Line episode, Israel needs Russia if it wants to operate across its northeastern border.
In a bizarre twist, many of the same officials who failed to enforce Obama’s red line are now serving the Biden administration. Without self-confidence, they blame Israel for not helping Ukraine enough. Somehow it has escaped them that Israel cannot openly challenge Russia if it wants access to Syrian airspace.
In another odd twist, the The White House wants the oil-producing Arab states to make up for lost production due to sanctions against Russia. These states once longed for the Obama administration to oust Assad. Instead, they watched in horror as Putin came to Assad’s rescue. They then watched in disbelief as Washington signed a nuclear deal with Iran that netted Tehran around $150 billion in sanctions relief. Substantial portions of this money helped prop up Assad’s regime.
As Biden lobbies our Arab allies for increased oil production, US-Iranian negotiators in Vienna are poised on the verge of another nuclear deal — with the Russians as no less than the primary facilitator. The result will again be the release of billions of dollars to fund Tehran and its proxies. Assad will be a beneficiary again.
Biden himself recently warned of “consequences” if Moscow uses chemical weapons in Ukraine. To our Middle East allies, these threats ring as hollow today as they did in 2013.
Actions have consequences. Likewise inaction. Ten years later, our allies in the Middle East can attest to this. In ten years, our European allies could do the same.
Jonathan Schanzer is senior vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Enia Krivine is Senior Director of FDD’s Israel Program and National Security Network.
Twitter: @JSchanzer @EKrivine.
https://nypost.com/2022/03/29/no-one-believes-biden-has-a-red-line-in-ukraine-after-syria-debacle/ No one believes Biden has a red line in Ukraine after the Syria debacle