A LINE IN THE SAND: to establish a boundary that cannot be crossed without retailiation

A line in the sand

A Line in the Sand is a  phrase that is so common that it takes very little explanation.    It stems from the practice of creating a demarcation limit.   Quite simply, a line is drawn in the sand and the opposition is told that they are free to take whatever actions they require on the other side of the line.   However, should they cross the line, they will have signalled a rejection of the established limits.

It can be as simple as a children’s game of tag  on a beach, in which a line is literally drawn.   If the opposing team crosses the line, they are fair play for being “tagged.”   The line may change numerous times  throughout the game.

On a more serious note, however, the term is used when one nation “draws” an imiginary line which designates the boundaries for the oppsition.   Should the opponents choose to crosss that line, it is a signal of war.

Such is the case with the “red line” that President Obama “drew” in the sand, in which he declared that the U.S. would remain uninvolved in the Civil War that is raging in that country.    However, should the Syrian government choose to employ chemical weapons (an action they have been known to employ in the past) it would be a “red line,” signalling to the US and other nations that they were intentionally crossing the line and welcoming retaliation.

Unfortunately, when the first episode of chemical weapons occurred, the President backed off on his threat.   He has been widely criticized for that action.   This past week, when hundreds of people died in a chemical weapon episode and thousands were hospitalized as a result of poisoning, the President was faced with yet another test of his strength.   After the UN investigators declared that chemical weapons were, indeed, the cause of the deaths and injuries, the President came before the people and said that the barrier had been broken and that the time had come to respond appropriately.

It has been several days now, and the President continues to state that he is considering the options.   Some would have him respond more quickly, as in a knee-jerk reaction.   That is not the way Barack Obama works.  He is thoughtful, and he goes to the experts for advice.  It is a commendable response, given the reactions this nation has had in the past, i.e.: Iraq.

But even the most ardent supporters of President Obama are becoming impatient with the delay.   Others, again including many Obama supporters, are encouraging him not to use military forces to respond.    It is clear that there is no easy answer.  Whatever the President chooses to do will be seen as the wrong answer by some.

The call for him to go to Congress for “approval” of a plan is out there, and many would hope that this would be President Obama’s choice.  The President is clear that he does not need the approval of the Congress.  So there is a political side to this dilemma.

It is expected that as soon as this afternoon the President will announce his decision.  It is to be hoped that whatever the President chooses, it will be a decision that embraces a long-term solution as well as the immediate situation.   Other presidents have  been faced with similar dilemmas.   Sometimes their decisions have been applauded; at other times they have been derided.   Given the amount of anti-Obama sentiment in this country, it is likely that there will be criticism no matter what he chooses.

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Photo  Credit:  Tom White

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