Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

Print Print Cite Cite
Style: MLA APA Chicago Close


“Redline and Greenlight”

by Elliott Abrams
August 21, 2012


The Syrian dissident and human rights activist Ammar Abdulhamid entitles his very powerful blog entry today at the Syrian Revolution Digest site “Redline and Greenlight.”

What does he mean?

In his recent White House press briefing, President Obama said that he had not “ordered military engagement” in Syria, but noted that he might change his “calculus” should “we see a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around, or being utilized,” by the Assad regime, as this development, for him, as he pointed out, would constitute a “redline.” By framing things this way at a time when Assad’s MIGs, helicopter gunships, missiles and heavy artillery are pounding residential neighborhoods and civilian installations, including schools and hospitals, in villages, towns and cities all across Syria claiming hundreds of lives every day, President Obama’s redline will most likely be taken by Assad as greenlight for sticking to his bloody tactics to the bitter end. After all, he was just told by the most powerful man in the world that he has no plans to stop him.

My friend Ammar has a point. There are now 23,000 dead in Syria and more dying each day. We all share the President’s concern about chemical weapons, but is that our only concern? In April the President visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC and announced his creation of an “Atrocities Prevention Board.” The President said:

It’s a bitter truth — too often, the world has failed to prevent the killing of innocents on a massive scale.  And we are haunted by the atrocities that we did not stop and the lives we did not save.

The President then addressed the situation in Syria:

We see the Syrian people subjected to unspeakable violence, simply for demanding their universal rights.  And we have to do everything we can.  And as we do, we have to remember that despite all the tanks and all the snipers, all the torture and brutality unleashed against them, the Syrian people still brave the streets.  They still demand to be heard.  They still seek their dignity.  The Syrian people have not given up, which is why we cannot give up.

It may be more accurate to say we cannot give up because we have nothing to give up. According to the Washington Post, “Even as the Obama administration hardens its rhetoric on Syria, members of the Syrian opposition say the United States has failed to deliver promised communications and other equipment intended to support those seeking to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.”

It is a sad story, and Ammar Abdulhamid’s anger is justifiable. Syrians have been fighting the vicious and bloody–and anti-American–Assad regime for over a year and a half, and we have not helped them. As I wrote here in May, “An ‘Atrocities Prevention Board’ is a nice thing to have; I’m for it. But I’d trade it in an instant for a president determined to prevent atrocities.”

Post a Comment 6 Comments

  • Posted by Josh

    Forgive my frankness Mr. Abrams, but are you suggesting that the President should intervene militarily in a situation where countless analysts have already asserted that terrorist threats may be an active branch of the opposition? Would you have us re-create Iraq, Bosnia, and other failed nation building exploits? What about the consequences of military intervention such as what we are witnessing in West Africa? Surely you must agree that the large stockpile of weapons in Syria mimics (albeit on a much larger and more deadly scale) the stockpile of Libyan weapons that fell into the hands of Taureg ethnic militias which are now destabilizing Mali and calling for an independent Islamic state (in an alliance with AQIM)? Be careful of your words Mr. Abrams, they can evoke much damage.

  • Posted by Jay T.

    It seems possible that, by Monday, the “red line” of moving but not yet using chemical weapons had recently been crossed, and the President stepped in, without leaking intel and causing a panic, to prevent further atrocities.

  • Posted by Dan

    Overlooked by all: Redline for Syria, none for Iran.

  • Posted by Paratroopers Day

    January 20 = Redline for Iran

  • Posted by Dean Smallwood

    ” … we cannot give up .” Give up what ? Give up continuing to do nothing ? Obama could have done something 12,000 lives ago . The Russians certainly haven’t stopped supplying Assad during this slaughter !

    Another thing … we may now know where Saddam Hussein’s WMDs went .

  • Posted by david

    as i said to am mar over 2 years ago… time to take out Assad.

    he argued at the time I was rash…

    23,000 civilians later?

    it’s his bowl of soup now…

Post a Comment

CFR seeks to foster civil and informed discussion of foreign policy issues. Opinions expressed on CFR blogs are solely those of the author or commenter, not of CFR, which takes no institutional positions. All comments must abide by CFR's guidelines and will be moderated prior to posting.

* Required