Friday, April 26, 2013

Crossing Lines

Somewhere along the way in the accelerated evolution of our language, "crossing a line" became the apparently preferred euphemism for doing something wrong. I suppose our post-modern abhorrence of objective morality makes it awkward to employ traditional moral language. But, of course, our judgmental, non-judgmental culture considers all sorts of things to be wrong (and rightly so in many cases). So some euphemism for moral judgment is required, and "crossing a line" seems to have become the preferred linguistic option.
But, as all traditional moral language recognizes, not all wrongs are equal. Some wrongs are especially bad. Hence, the euphemism of the "red line." Thus, the Asad regime's suspected use of chemical weapons is more than just "crossing a line." It's "a red line" that is being crossed! So yesterday's news was filled with politicians and journalists all tiresomely repeating the same "red line" refrain!
Whatever the line's color, however, it seems somewhat unclear what is to be done about it. That's the inherent difficulty with drawing lines of any kind, I suppose. When one does that and then the "line" is crossed, what is the right response? Bluffing works only up to a point. It's generally not such a good idea to threaten without a strategy to follow-up. The Syrian situation is immensely complicated and frought with dangers of all sorts. Creating uncrossable lines - arbitrary tripwires that can escalate a conflict - may only dig us a deeper hole, while we are still struggling to extricate ourselves from the holes we dug for ourselves in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As with the rest of the so-called Arab Spring, it is not obvious that there are any good outcomes that are particularly likely. I do not know what the United State should try to do about Syria. I suspect I am not alone. So, iIn the absence of anything more serious, I guess we can expect more bluster about crossing lines!

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