COHEN: The consequences of Obama's inaction
Published: Monday, February 25, 2013 at 7:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 25, 2013 at 12:09 p.m.
A mountain of dead (70,000 or so), not to mention an approaching regional blood bath, suggests that once again things are coming apart. Still, life does not exactly imitate art. Lawrence of Arabia at least tried to do something. Barack of D.C. just sat on his hands.
Actually, he sat on his polling numbers. The president's refusal to do anything material to end the Syrian civil war is a policy long suspected of having two elements — fear of blowback and fear of the nightly news. Now comes a book from a one-time administration insider who bluntly and altogether convincingly outlines the role domestic political considerations played in the White House's approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The goal of policymakers was
The former insider is the resplendently credentialed Vali Nasr, dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, life member of the Council on Foreign Relations and, most pertinently, former senior adviser to the late Richard Holbrooke, President
Nasr set down his views in a book called
Boldness is what the situation in Syria demanded. A civil war that could have been contained has, instead, become a sprawling, regionwide bar fight. Arms could have been shipped to the insurgents; a no-fly zone could have been imposed. Much could have been done. Instead, Obama merely called for Bashar al-Assad to go and, for some reason he, like Eric Cantor or somebody, remains immovable.
The stakes here are enormous. Lebanon teeters, swamped with refugees. Jordan, too, is overwhelmed. The Kurds in Syria's north may, as they have in nearby Iraq, establish an autonomous zone — and Turkey will not be pleased. The jihadists are on the move, hungry for Syria's vast store of chemical weapons. Israel watches, nervously. What if Hezbollah gets its hands on chemical weapons? An Obama administration, afraid of blowback, may well have allowed the Middle East to blow apart.
The battle for Damascus is now engaged. The war next month enters its third year, a humanitarian crisis that has been permitted to fester under the rubric of foreign policy realism. But another realism is now apparent: Inaction has bred the manufacture of orphans — a carnage, a horror, a reprimand to inaction. Life imitates art. Damascus is where it all came apart in
Richard Cohen is a columnist for the Washington Post.