Linda Downing

The red line: truth or dare?

"When I was a child, I spoke as a child" (1 Corinthians 13:11). Whether or not we strike Syria by the time this column appears makes no difference as to our "Truth or Dare?" image. As silly as that kid's game is, when President Barak Obama warned Syrian President Bashar Assad not to "cross the red line," his game-like bravado was sillier and dangerous. We the people and much of Congress hastened to point this out. The finger pointing may boomerang, however, when it comes time for the next truth question: "Are we running our own lives like a game?" It is inescapable that the answer determines the nation's path, that the splinter in Obama's eye may reveal a board in our own. Truth or Dare requires at least three players given the choice to answer an embarrassing truth question or perform a hazardous dare. Rules include not choosing more than two truth questions in a row, dares cannot be repeated, and dares cannot be taken back. We naively thought our truth questions represented world opinion against Assad's treatment of his own people: Were he and his military committing human rights atrocities as defined by the United Nations? Who are the good guys? The bad guys? What kind of aid could we give the good guys if we could figure out who they are?
Assad's answers were plain and uncompromising. He is Syria's leader, and he calls the shots. It is not up for a vote. Any interference from outside Syria will be deemed an act of war. Every Assad answer was followed by an assumed-unified world's dare, voiced mainly by the United States: Stop the killing or else. Assad and the rebels increased the killing. Obama, criticized for wavering, issued the next dare, "if you cross the red line, I'll." without either defining the line or what he would do about it. Assad took it to mean using chemical weapons and crossed the line. Obama's "I'll" really meant "we'll." Great Britain said immediately: "We're not playing." We are in a pause-play position. Most of the Middle East is burning in the same fires fuelling Syria. The one with the most to lose, Israel, has a leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, who trumps questions and dares with action: "We are prepared for any possible scenario." We wish the U.S. could say the same. Our 9/11 momentarily united us. Mostly it revealed our divisions, foreshadowed our economic collapse, and left us unprepared to deal with problems within and without. Our cliffhanger moment with Syria needs to bypass Obama's ego and our national credibility. Those only reflect the kind of silly pride evident in a game of Truth or Dare. "Are we running our own lives like a game?" Our lawmakers say they will seek more information about possible consequences of striking a region without knowing what would happen next. If their words are not just a political ploy, then that knowledge quest is biblical: Before we act, count the cost, and ask if we are able to pay (Luke 14:28). Real life has three players - God, Satan, us - and begins and ends here: All men know there is a Creator God and it is wrong to worship or seek advice from any other (Romans 1). That is God's rule and red line. Dares are out of the question; we only fool ourselves if we try. Finding truth requires the right starting point. That is the quest of this column. If we seek simple truth, we can find it together-side-by-side. Linda M. Downing is a freelance writer. Contact her at