American Thinker | 5.18.13
By Alan W. Dowd
The Middle East is
on fire. More than 80,000 people have been killed in Syria’s brutal civil war. Chemical
weapons are being used against civilians. Scud missiles are raining down onto
population centers. Jordan is drowning in a tidal wave of war refugees. Jihadists
are on the march across the region. Sectarian violence is claiming up to 50 people
a day in Iraq. The death toll last month was more than 700—“the highest since
the dark days of summer 2008,” as Lt. Col. Joel
Rayburn recently reported.
Encircled by enemies and buffeted by chaos, Israel appears to be on its own.
And as the Middle East burns, America sits on the sidelines—not helpless but
rather care-less. The White House
just doesn’t seem to care.
For those of us who
were listening as Barack Obama began his endless campaign, this comes as no surprise.
An America detached and disengaged is exactly what he advertised.
For instance, Candidate
Obama made it clear that it is not America’s job to prevent genocide. As the
AP reported in July 2007, “Presidential hopeful Barack Obama said Thursday the
United States cannot use its military to solve humanitarian problems and that
preventing a potential genocide in Iraq isn’t a good enough reason to keep U.S.
His defense of this
position sounded jarringly similar to that of isolationists, who always justify
non-intervention somewhere by pointing out that America has not intervened
everywhere. “If that’s the criteria by which we are making decisions on the
deployment of U.S. forces,” then-Senator Obama explained, referring to
genocide, “then by that argument you would have 300,000 troops in the Congo right
now—where millions have been slaughtered as a consequence of ethnic
strife—which we haven’t done.” He continued: “We would be deploying
unilaterally and occupying the Sudan, which we haven't
This is sophistry. Just because America can’t intervene
every place doesn’t mean American shouldn’t intervene in some places. Indeed, presidents
from both parties have used military force to address humanitarian problems and
affronts to human rights: Ireland was ravaged by famine in the 1840s, and the
U.S. sent warships loaded with food; Spain turned Cuba into a concentration
camp, and McKinley launched what was arguably America’s first humanitarian war;
Stalin tried to starve Berlin into submission, and Truman launched Operation
babies were abandoned, and Ford launched Operation Babylift; the Soviets bludgeoned
Afghanistan, and Reagan armed the freedom-fighters; Saddam Hussein tried to
strangle the friendless Kurds, and the elder Bush dispatched U.S. troops
to protect them; Slobodan Milosevic “cleansed” the Balkans, and Clinton used a
NATO air armada to stop him.
In short, answering when the
forgotten and the oppressed cry out for help is part of what America does. At
least it used to be.
Elie Wiesel noticed the change after a year of killing in Syria. In April 2012, the
Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize
recipient was called upon to introduce the president at a U.S. Holocaust
Memorial ceremony, and he used the opportunity to offer a stinging rebuke of
the president’s care-less approach.
greatest tragedy in history could have been prevented had the civilized world
spoken up, taken measures in 1939, ‘40, ‘41, ’42,” he intoned. “So in this
place we may ask: Have we learned anything from it? If so, how is it that Assad
is still in power? How is it that the No. 1 Holocaust denier Ahmadinejad is
still a president—he who threatens to use nuclear weapons to destroy the Jewish
Incredibly, when the
president took to the podium, he declared, “Too often, the world has failed to prevent the
killing of innocents on a massive scale. And we are haunted by the
atrocities that we did not stop and the lives we did not save… remembrance
without resolve is a hollow gesture. Awareness without action changes nothing.”
This was after a year of slaughter in Syria.
It’s as if the
president is living in an alternate universe where Syria is not happening. President
Obama’s care-less approach would be more
understandable, more acceptable, if he didn’t pretend to care, if he didn’t
talk like Vaclav Havel and act like Henry Kissinger. As it is, he’s
indicted by his own words.
can and do disagree about the merits of intervening in Syria. Indeed, informed
observers are divided over the question of intervention—with some arguing that
intervention is unnecessary because Syria poses no threat to U.S. interests,
others that intervention is too risky given that terror groups hide among the rebels,
others that because of its special role in the world the U.S. can’t sit by
while civilians are being butchered, and still others that the ouster of Assad would
be a blow to Iran and thus in America’s geostrategic interests.
These are valid and
important points. But these points—and Syria’s civil war—are secondary to the
broader issue at stake. Whether freedom in Syria is worth risking American
blood is open to debate—whether freedom will even take root in Syria is open to
debate—but the importance of American credibility, American leadership,
American moral standing is not.
doesn’t seem to recognize this. Regrettably, Syria is only the latest
When the Iranian
regime crushed its opponents after the farcical 2009 election, President Obama
responded to the “Twitter Revolution” by averting his gaze. No one was calling
on him to send in the 82nd Airborne to support the Iranian
protestors. But freedom-loving people—and their enemies—look to America for
signals. And the president’s signals were loud and clear that summer. The sad
irony of the president’s inaction in Iran was that it answered his own
rhetorical question of a year before, albeit in a manner his mesmerized supporters
would never notice. “Will we stand
for the human rights of…the blogger in Iran?” he asked during his 2008
speech in Berlin. “Will we give
meaning to the words ‘never again’ in Darfur?” The Iranian people know
the answer—and now, so do the Syrian people.
To be fair, the president
did intervene in Libya. But it seems he was prodded—shamed—into acting by
Nicolas Sarkozy. Even then, the president was content to “lead from behind”—the
oxymoronic term coined by his staff to try to justify the president’s stand-off
approach. And America’s closest allies remember that when they asked Washington
to continue air operations at one critical point in Libya, a NATO official took pains to emphasize that extension of U.S.
air power “expires on Monday.”
In other words,
American leadership comes with an expiration date—what a bruising but apt
metaphor for President Obama’s approach to foreign policy.