“What’s Next for Syria?” the New York Times headlined its latest editorial on the subject this week. Its answer reflects the mushy-headed thinking that all too often emanates these days from America’s “paper of record.”
“With the apparent collapse of the United Nations-mediated peace talks on Syria,” the Times opined, “the United States and its allies find themselves in a difficult spot. Absent a diplomatic and political option, what can the world do about a civil war that has killed an estimated 136,000 people, produced nine million refugees, displaced 4.25 million civilians internally and now threatens to destabilize several other countries in the region?”
The Times’ answer: nothing.
The editorialists didn’t put it that way, of course. But, after six paragraphs of tortured logic, the reader can come to no other conclusion. Here are the major elements of the editorialists’ faux argument.
“American officials say that [Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s] grip has grown stronger over the past year, thanks largely to the reliable support of his patrons in Russia and Iran,” the Times wrote. “Yet despite Secretary of State John Kerry’s criticism, Moscow has enabled Mr. Assad to ‘double down,’ while the rest of the world has largely given Iran and Russia a pass. That is astonishing.”
Really? The editorialists are really surprised that Russia won’t succumb to U.S. pressure, that Vladimir Putin won’t strong-arm al-Assad to step down as part of a negotiated peace to the savage civil war that he largely orchestrated, that Kerry can’t convince a former KGB honcho to abandon a longstanding and reliable partner in a region where the United States has welcomed Russia’s growing influence?
Would the Times of 1943 have been surprised that Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, couldn’t convince Germany’s Adolf Hitler to relinquish the territory he had conquered across Europe, or to stop his slaughter of Jews, Gypsies, communists, or other threats to his “master race?”
“Now that peace talks have run aground,” the Times wrote, “Mr. Obama has asked his advisers to review old and new options for bolstering opposition forces and easing the desperate humanitarian crisis. These tasks have grown even more complicated as Syria has increasingly become a breeding ground for a new generation of terrorists and as ever-larger refugee flows threaten to destabilize the region. Such threats may at some point require bolder steps. But, so far, no one has come up with surefire remedies or even new ideas that would not draw the United States into war.”
Nonsense. The choice isn’t between peace and war; it’s between endless talk and meaningful action. The Obama Administration is considering such options as establishing no-fly zones to ground al-Assad’s aircraft, creating humanitarian safe havens for Syria’s desperate refugees, and expanding covert U.S. arms and training to rebel forces that oppose both al-Assad and the al-Qaeda-affiliated factions that are pouring into Syria.
Yes, Syria is complicated -- increasingly so because, for three years, the United States has taken a pass on what began as an “Arab Spring” protest and has since turned into a humanitarian horror show. Yes, the multiplicity of forces that are now fighting al-Assad makes it increasingly hard for the United States to ensure that its weapons won't fall into the wrong hands.
But, the United States has established no-fly zones before, such as in Iraq in the 1990s and Libya in recent years, without somehow finding itself sucked into a war. So, too, has it delivered covert aid to democratic forces around the world that were fighting to overthrow authoritarian governments.
The notion that the world’s most-powerful nation is impotent to address an ongoing slaughter that now also represents a growing national security threat to the United States is both silly and disgusting.
“Mr. Obama has resisted being pushed into a war by critics who seem to believe that force is the ultimate sign of leadership,” the Times wrote in a tone of proud passivity. “Leadership sometimes means not going to war. It also means, in this case, persisting in the frustrating search for a peaceful solution and, short of that, some means of lessening the misery of the Syrian people.”
So, that’s it. Let’s keep pressuring a desperate dictator to end his slaughter and give up power without a fight to the finish, and let’s keep trying to convince his thuggish benefactor to abandon him.
Insanity, Albert Einstein said, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Times’ readers deserve something more than an insanity defense for an Administration policy that’s so ineffective.
Lawrence J. Haas, former communications director for Vice President Al Gore, is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council and author of “Sound the Trumpet: The United States and Human Rights Promotion.” Follow him on Twitter @larryhaasonline.