Syria Burns on Obama’s Back Burner
JUSTICE IS NOT what Washington customarily delivers, but I do not believe I have ever experienced the futility of moral argument in the capital more completely than in the discussion, or rather the disappearance of the discussion, about Syria. There is not even off-the-record anguish. If there was a debate in the councils of American power, it left no mark on the disposition of American power. For almost two years, as a rebellion against tyranny has been met by a tyrant’s unappeasable appetite for atrocity and has devolved into a miserable sectarian war, as Assad uses air power against his own population, destroying Aleppo as he will surely destroy Damascus, the president of the United States has been satisfied to watch and to wait. Even by Obama’s standard of detachment, the moral inertness—and the strategic inertness too, since it is Iran’s interests that he is protecting by doing nothing—has been shocking. We have chosen to have no effect upon a crisis that will have an effect upon us. So far 25,000 people have been killed, 250,000 refugees have fled into Syria’s panicked neighbors, and 1.2 million people, more than half of them children, have been displaced inside Syria. Al Qaeda has found a new front. Everything that the administration said would happen if we intervened happened when we did not intervene; and all the warnings of the wild Bush-like trigger-mad hawkish crusading idealists came true. Diplomacy has been employed cynically as an instrument of prevarication, first with the Annan mission and now with the Brahimi mission, and most bizarrely in the president’s willingness to have Russia and China, those exemplary states, determine the contours of an American response. He is asking to be blocked. Obama has exposed the timidity, the relinquishment of position, at the heart of the multilateralism fetish: when we cannot act with others, we will not act alone. Never mind that action is desperately needed; and never mind, too, that we would not act alone, because others, Turkey and Saudi Arabia and some Gulf states, are waiting only to join us. The willing are there, but we will not form the coalition. Instead Obama proclaims that until Assad turns to his chemical weapons the United States will let him be. Yet all this is stonily beside the point. Anger is fruitless, and argument, and eloquence. The conversation is over.