While the recent increase of attention to the ongoing carnage in Syria is a welcome change from the Obama administration’s collective state of denial over the past ten months, signals remain mixed, and our policy is unclear if not non-existent. This week alone, for example, we got the welcome news that the Pentagon is preparing military options on Syria for the President, but at the same time White House press secretary announced those options will not be exercised.
The waters have been further muddied by the President’s insistence that there is no parity between the situation in Libya last year and what we face now in Syria. In Libya, the threat to civilians and opportunity to topple a vicious dictator were sufficient cause for Mr. Obama to engage the U.S. military, even without a pressing national security interest at stake. While it can be argued that once the U.S. engaged in Libya it might have been preferable to lead from the front to secure weapons stockpiles and guard against al Qaida encroachment, the fact remains that the world is a better place with Colonel Qaddafi gone, as Mr. Obama routinely reminds us.
Meanwhile, as many as ten times the civilians killed in Libya before NATO’s intervention have died in Syria over the last year. Bashir Assad is no less cruel and repressive a tyrant than Muammar Qaddafi. The threat of Syria’s unknown stockpiles of WMD falling into bad hands demands our urgent attention. And, above all, the United States has a clear strategic interest in toppling this vital ally of Iran.
But Syria is somehow different, and not worthy of the same sort of military assistance we offered to the Libyan rebels.
Rather than taking decisive action in the form of military aid through our purported ally Turkey (perhaps in August when the President issued a statement calling for Assad’s ouster on his way out of town for vacation), the U.S. has remained on the diplomatic equivalent of a hamster wheel. From the ill-advised resumption of “normal” relations with Syria last January through the pathetic failure of the Security Council resolution this weekend, our efforts to resolve the situation have been futile wastes of time and energy as the slaughter in Syria goes on to the tune of 100 people a day.
In dealing with Libya and Syria, consistency need not be the hobgoblin of little minds but can rather be the hallmark of a consistent and coordinated foreign policy. There are equivalencies to be drawn between the two crises, and once these are recognized we should take equivalent action. It is not a decision to be taken lightly, but we would not be alone and the cause is just. We have the unified support of our European and Arab allies. We have moral and strategic interests at stake. Rather than whining about the shocking moral turpitude of the United Nations, the President of the United States needs to remember his responsibilities as the leader of the free world–and lead.