Syria: A 'Red Line' Obama Shouldn't Cross

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images

(The Root) — If Barack Obama is truly concerned with how history will judge his presidency, he will resist the intensifying pressure to intervene militarily in Syria's horrendous civil war. Instead, he should complete the planned withdrawal of most U.S. forces from Afghanistan and refocus our national energy on reinvigorating the still-shaky domestic economy during the remainder of his second term.


This is not a call for the U.S. to retreat into isolationism and disengage from global issues. It is a plea for us to reorder our priorities in light of our true national interest.

Despite recent signs that the economy is reviving, this is still a battered nation where far too many people continue to pay the price for the misplaced policies of the recent past. The victims include African Americans, whose unemployment rate of 13.2 percent is nearly double the 6.7 percent jobless rate among whites.


Although our humanitarian instincts say otherwise, we simply cannot afford another expensive military engagement in yet another Middle Eastern potential quagmire. We are not in a position to heal the woes of other nations until we repair our own.

Politicians and pundits may quibble about the implications of Obama's warning that the regime of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad would cross a "red line" if it used chemical weapons against its civilian population. They may hope that Russia will finally use its influence to help negotiate an end to the horrific violence, which has cost 70,000 lives so far.

The U.S. is already trying to pull the opposition together into a credible alternative to the Assad regime and providing millions of dollars in nonlethal assistance. What else we could do to make things better is debatable.

That burden will become still heavier if we embark on yet another bloody foreign adventure financed by borrowing from overseas, especially China. Wading into Syria would leave us even more at the financial mercy of our greatest rival.


Doubtless, these concerns are on Obama's mind as he weighs the U.S. response to the crisis, which deepened considerably last week with Israeli airstrikes on targets near Damascus. And he must know that despite the yowling from critics that the U.S. should consider such steps as providing weapons and training to rebel forces or imposing a no-fly zone, there is no political upside to escalating American involvement in this mess.

Those opposed to the president are so bitter and entrenched that they will attack him no matter what step he takes — even if he does what they suggest. That's why the strong position he appeared to occupy in the immediate aftermath of his re-election has deteriorated so rapidly that to many, he looks like a lame duck fewer than 100 days into his second term.


President Obama has only one way out of this morass: avoid being drawn into another crippling foreign conflict, while working diligently on the country's domestic needs. That, in turn, will require his best efforts to replace the recalcitrant Republican majority in the House of Representatives with a Congress whose chief priority is governing instead of reflexively thwarting his every design, from modest gun control to budgetary reform.

He has spent much of his time in office extricating us from the fiascos in Iraq and Afghanistan. He ought to be remembered for binding up the nation's wounds and putting its people back to work, not immersing us in a costly and inconclusive mess.


Jack White, a former columnist for Time magazine, is a freelance writer in Richmond, Va., and a contributing editor at The Root.

is a former columnist for TIME magazine and a regular contributor to The Root.

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