- - Sunday, July 9, 2017


In August 2012, President Obama declared a “red line” against Syrian use of chemical weapons. He said, “We have communicated in no uncertain terms with every player in the region that that’s a red line for us and that there would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front or the use of chemical weapons.”

About a year later, the Assad regime fired chemical weapons into towns near Damascus, killing over one thousand people. Mr. Obama imposed no consequences, enormous or trivial, proving redundantly the emptiness of his threats.

In the four years since, Russia and Iran have — with the Assad regime’s acquiescence — made Syria into their joint satrapy. At the same time, the rise of ISIS has led to ongoing wars that almost constitute a regional war, ranging across Iraq, Syria and Libya. It may soon extend to Egypt’s Sinai peninsula. These conflicts are largely the result of Mr. Obama’s too-frequent misjudgments and his neutering of American influence in the region.

The contrast between Messrs. Obama and Trump could not be greater. Mr. Trump first enforced a red line and then announced it. During his campaign, Mr. Trump said we should stay out of the Syrian war. But on April 7, he ordered a cruise missile strike against Assad’s Shayrat air base from which a chemical weapons strike had been mounted against Syrian civilians.

Mr. Trump did more than “send a message.” About one third of Mr. Assad’s air force was destroyed in that attack.

In late June, when Syrian forces were reportedly preparing another chemical weapons attack, Mr. Trump issued a warning that the Assad regime would pay a “heavy price” if it made another such attack this year.

A few days later, Defense Secretary James Mattis said that the warning was apparently being heeded. We shouldn’t celebrate that small victory too much because Mr. Assad will not be constrained by Russia or Iran after our forces depart. The Syria war is not over until Russia and Iran say it is, because they control its outcome.

The city of Raqqa, ISIS’s “capital” and last stronghold in Syria, is under siege by our Kurdish allies, Marine artillery and U.S. air power. It will fall and soon Mr. Mattis’ strategy of surrounding and annihilating ISIS in Syria will have succeeded.

At that point, we will withdraw our troops from Syria simply because there will be no reason to stay. As much as the president wants to protect Syrian civilians from chemical weapon attacks, he won’t and shouldn’t be willing to commit our forces indefinitely.

So what comes next?

The Kurds, having played a key role in defeating ISIS, will continue pursuit of their historical wish for an independent state in northern Iraq and southern Turkey. Turkey will prevent them from achieving that.

Russia and Iran may take time to consolidate their hold on Syria but will soon look beyond it to other Middle Eastern states. The Russians and Iranians will want to use the same strategy by which Russia took over the Crimean Peninsula and are still trying to conquer Ukraine.

Mr. Putin’s hybrid form of war — using “little green men,” anonymously-uniformed Russian troops — infiltrated and conquered the Crimean peninsula in 2014. Expanding beyond Syria, the most likely target would be Jordan, where the “little green men” will still be suited to the mission while supplemented by Lebanon-based (and Iranian-controlled) Hezbollah terrorists and Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps troops, many — hundreds? thousands? — already in Syria.

Jordan’s position is strategic, bordering Syria, Israel, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. That makes it the most likely target for Russia’s and Iran’s next aggression. Its population of over eight million includes about two million people registered as Palestinian “refugees” most of whom are descendants of Arabs who left Israel in 1948. They are ripe for the kind of subversion in which Hezbollah and IRGC specialize. SIS fighters who escape Syria and Iraq will be eager for such action.

Jordan is a usually reliable but unobtrusive U.S. ally. Its fight against ISIS has already been long. The most memorable part of that fight was in 2015 when ISIS captured a Jordanian pilot and then made a propaganda video of him being burned alive. Jordan’s King Abdullah, an experienced Cobra attack helicopter pilot, reportedly flew a retaliatory mission himself.

In 2016, King Abdullah, in a meeting with U.S. congressmen, told them that ISIS is exporting terrorists to Europe. He also criticized Turkey for buying ISIS oil exports. None of our other allies spoke that correctly and forcefully. At the time, neither did the American president.

Mr. Trump’s red line against Syrian chemical weapons attacks was easy to draw clearly and enforce. A new red like is needed which will be easy to draw but much harder to enforce. The president should draw a new red line, this time to defend Jordan against Russia, Iran and their proxies’ subversion or outright invasion.

Mr. Trump should invite King Abdullah to the White House for the announced purpose of consulting on that threat. In joint statements at the meeting’s conclusion they should put Iran, Russia and Syria on notice that a new red line has been drawn on Jordan’s borders. There should be no doubt that America will use military force in Jordan’s defense against such aggression.

• Jed Babbin served as a deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration. He is a senior fellow of the London Center for Policy Research and the author of five books including “In the Words of Our Enemies.”

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