Alarmingly, liberal humanitarian interventionists also have begun talking up military intervention. Anne-Marie Slaughter, former head of policy planning in the State Department under President Obama, led the charge in a bellicose op-edin The Post, comparing the reports of chemical weapons use to genocide in Rwanda. There, she said, America had been shamed by the Clinton administration’s demand for “more conclusive evidence” of genocide. Now, she argued, Obama was repeating the dodge by seeking proof about what actually took place in Syria.
“U.S. credibility is on the line,” concluded Slaughter. The president must understand the “tremendous damage he will do to the United States and to his legacy if he fails to act.”
Slaughter shows neither the slightest awareness of the “distrust, cynicism and hatred” that will be generated if the dying Syrian civilians are victims of U.S. bombs or of the deep divide within the Muslim world over the civil war there. She seems unconcerned at the lack of any good choices in the Syrian debacle, or at the absence of any legal justification for the United States to intervene.
Obama has thus far stood up to such howls, and displayed a sensible caution that others would do well to emulate. It is time for everyone — even the righteous — to sober up about Syria. Given the terrible costs we have suffered from U.S. intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, and given the complexities of the sectarian conflict now taking place in Syria, the president is surely right to avoid any rush into another war in the Middle East.
The lessons of those previous wars are particularly relevant here. Syria has, as Syria specialistJoshua Landis has argued, many parallels to Iraq. It is a nation rife with religious, sectarian and class divisions. A minority — Shiite in Syria — in alliance with urban Sunnis, Christians and other minorities, has used a dictatorship to rule over the Sunni majority. The uprising has quickly turned sectarian — in part because of the outside influences of Turkey and the Gulf monarchies who seek to weaken the Iranian-Shiite alliance.
Despite U.S. efforts to cobble together a united and more secular opposition, the rebels are divided, with Islamists — many espousing open allegiance to al-Qaeda — providing the fiercest fighters. The violence will not end when the brutal regime falls. Already chaos, criminality, local militias and warlords beset “liberated”areas.