Last year President Obama ordered US intervention in Libya under the grand new
doctrine of “Responsibility to Protect.” Muammar Gaddafi was threatening a
massacre in Benghazi.
To stand by and do nothing “would have been a
betrayal of who we are,” explained the president.
In the year since, the
government of Syria has more than threatened massacres. It has carried them out.
Nothing hypothetical about the disappearances, executions, indiscriminate
shelling of populated neighborhoods. More than 9,000 are dead.
said that we cannot stand idly by.
And what has he done? Stand idly
Yes, we’ve imposed economic sanctions. But as with Iran, the economic
squeeze has not altered the regime’s behavior. Monday’s announced travel and
financial restrictions on those who use social media to track down dissidents is
No Disney World trips for the chiefs of the Iranian and
Syrian security agencies. And they might now have to park their money in Dubai
instead of New York. That’ll stop ‘em.
Obama’s other major announcement –
at Washington’s Holocaust Museum, no less – was the creation of an Atrocities
I kid you not. A board. Russia flies planeloads of
weapons to Damascus. Iran supplies money, trainers, agents, more weapons. And
what does America do? Support a feckless UN peace mission that does nothing to
stop the killing. (Indeed, some of the civilians who met with the peacekeepers
were summarily executed.) And establish an Atrocities Prevention
With multiagency participation, mind you. The liberal faith in the
power of bureaucracy and flowcharts, of committees and reports, is
But this is parody.
Now, there’s an argument to be made
that we do not have a duty to protect. That foreign policy is not social work.
That you risk American lives only when national security and/or strategic
interests are at stake, not merely to satisfy the humanitarian impulses of some
of our leaders.
But Obama does not make this argument. On the contrary.
He goes to the Holocaust Museum to commit himself and his country to defend the
innocent, to affirm the moral imperative of rescue.
And then does nothing
of any consequence.
His case for passivity is buttressed by the
implication that the only alternative to inaction is military intervention –
bombing, boots on the ground.
But that’s false. It’s not the only
Why aren’t we organizing, training and arming the Syrian
rebels in their sanctuaries in Turkey? Nothing unilateral here. Saudi Arabia is
already planning to do so. Turkey has turned decisively against Assad. And the
French are pushing for even more direct intervention.
insists that we can only act with support of the “international community,”
meaning the UN Security Council – where Russia and China have a permanent veto.
By what logic does the moral legitimacy of US action require the blessing of a
thug like Vladimir Putin and the butchers of Tiananmen Square? Our slavish,
mindless self-subordination to “international legitimacy” does nothing but allow
Russia – a pretend post-Soviet superpower – to extend a protective umbrella over
whichever murderous client it chooses. Obama has all but announced that Russia
(or China) has merely to veto international actions – sanctions, military
assistance, direct intervention – and the US will back off.
reason? Not even President Clinton, a confirmed internationalist, would
acquiesce to such restraints. With Russia prepared to block UN intervention
against its client, Serbia, Clinton saved Kosovo by summoning NATO to bomb the
hell out of Serbia, the Russians be damned.
If Obama wants to stay out of
Syria, fine. Make the case that it’s none of our business. That it’s too hard.
That we have no security/national interests there.
In my view, the
evidence argues against that, but at least a coherent case for hands off could
be made. That would be an honest, straightforward policy. Instead, the
president, basking in the sanctity of the Holocaust Museum, proclaims his solemn
allegiance to a doctrine of responsibility – even as he stands by and watches
If we are not prepared to intervene, even indirectly by
arming and training Syrians who want to liberate themselves, be candid. And then
be quiet. Don’t pretend the UN is doing anything.
Don’t pretend the US is
doing anything. And don’t embarrass the nation with an Atrocities Prevention
Board. The tragedies of Rwanda, Darfur and now Syria did not result from lack of
information or lack of interagency coordination, but from lack of
The writer's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. (c)
2012, The Washington Post Writers Group