Michael Barone recycles a particularly bad version of the “credibility” argument on Syria:
The red line has been crossed, but the president has decided not to change the game. This could have perilous consequences. Will Israeli leaders take seriously Obama’s pledge that he will not allow Iran to deploy nuclear weapons? Will our Asian allies be confident of our backing in their disputes with China over islets in the East China Sea? Will China be deterred from attacking them?
Notice that the “perilous consequences” Barone envisions have nothing whatever to do with Syria or chemical weapons. There doesn’t seem to be much concern that not attacking Syria will encourage other governments to acquire and use chemical weapons in war. Almost all states in the world are signatories of the CWC, and the taboo against chemical weapons use is so strong because it is widely recognized as atrocious. Those things will remain true regardless of what the U.S. does or doesn’t do in Syria. The taboo against chemical weapons use will not be meaningfully weakened if Assad is seen as “getting away with” using such weapons, and linking the enforcement of that taboo to an unnecessary war in Syria runs the risk of undermining it rather than strengthening it.
If small-scale use of chemical weapons has occurred in Syria, this has no bearing on U.S. commitments in East Asia or its pledge to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Alarmists are trying to stoke fear about what might happen if the U.S. doesn’t start bombing Syria, but the only examples of “perilous consequences” they can conjure up are unrelated to the conflict in Syria. The Israeli government claims to see Syria and Iran as “completely different” matters, which they are, so Israel’s government doesn’t seem nearly as worried about the “red line” in Syria as Barone assumes they must be. The U.S. doesn’t endorse the disputed territorial claims of most of China’s neighbors, but even if it did this would be a commitment that is independent of anything happening in another part of the world. Would the U.S. come to the defense of its treaty allies in East Asia if they came under Chinese attack? Yes, it would. That will be true no matter what the U.S. does in Syria, and deterring possible Chinese attack won’t depend on how the U.S. responds to possible chemical weapons use in Syria.