A year ago, President Obama said that the use of chemical weapons in Syria was a "red line" that al-Assad could not cross. It appears that that line has now been crossed (maybe twice) and Obama's hand was forced. Thing have been bad in Syria for a long time. The civil war had sent 2 million people over the border and displaced another 7 million internally. It is a humanitarian crisis in a region that cannot handle one. But how do you aid a nation in the middle of a hot war with many unknowns. The red line is a fingerpost marking the way to intervention.
Laying out that red line, we can now see was Obama taking Teddy Roosevelt's Big Stick out of the closet and propping up behind his desk.
When all is said and done, Obama may have earned that Peace Prize.
No one wants this war. No one.
The American public doesn't want it. Years of Iraq and Afghanistan and the lies of the Bush administration have left us unwilling to take action when action may help.
The Republicans Congress don't want this war. Obama called their bluff and made them complicit in any action by asking for authorization. GOP support would make Obama appear "strong" leading into a mid-term election. It would undo 6 years of obstruction.
China does not want this war. They have backed Syria to a point, selling them arms and goods. But their economy is a charade. The wind changing direction would bring the whole thing down.
Iran does not want this war. If you were to ask normal Iranians on the street of Tehran, I would guess that most would be pretty embarrassed of their country's support of al-Assad. The government, both civilian and religious, is too strained. The civilian side is done. They want the embargoes and isolation to end. Al-Assad is a symbol of the old way.
Russia doesn't want this war. That would require putting Russian military technology and Russian trained military on display. Whatever the Russians have will be no match for the full force of the US Navy (see the Iraqi invasion). Putin's Russia maintains a foothold on the region by projecting military power it does not really have.
Assad does not want this war. If the US launches cruise missile strikes or sends stealth bombers into Syria, it is all over. Assad has no good options left. He can:
- Leave the country and live out his days in Iran or Russia.
- Go out fighting and take as much of the country with him. 100 tons of sarin gas can do a ton of damage.
- Die in a ditch like Muammar Gaddafi.
The Rose Garden speech was Obama putting the stick on the table. It was the essential grit the diplomats needed to get the wheels spinning.
Secretary of State off handedly floats the idea of Syria turning over their chemical weapons. Russia goes along with it. Congress can hold off the vote. The UN Security Counsel (ie Russia and China) no longer have to vote on military action against an ally.
Suddenly weapons inspectors are all over Syria. Their presence gives all sides of the civil war a chance to breathe while the international community can broker some long term deal. With the hot war on hold, aid can flow in to the people of Syria who are in the most dire of straights.
No war. Just a big stick on the table.