The White House has led from behind on the Arab Spring, and the results show it; instead of U.S.-backed liberal democrats in the Arab world rallying to victory, Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia have all turned strongly Islamist (and Iraq is well on the way). Now the U.S. is leading from behind again, this time on Syria.
"In the coming days we will continue our very active discussions ... to crystallize the international community's next steps in that effort to halt the slaughter of the Syrian people," White House press spokesman Jay Carney said. Carney said the goal was to replace the Syrian regime with a democratic transition government – the same goal the U.S. expressed regarding Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya.
But the White House ruled out the notion of intervening militarily in Syria, even as Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s forces kill entire families. Instead, the White House pledged humanitarian aid.
There’s only one problem with humanitarian aid, of course: it never reaches the people who need it. As the Iraqi oil-for-food scandal showed, attempts to funnel humanitarian aid into dictatorships fail dismally. And as our debacle in Somalia showed, if we’re truly interested in seeing that humanitarian aid reach the people who need it, we have no choice but to put military forces on the ground to ensure that it does. When that happens, our soldiers become targets, a la Black Hawk Down.
The White House can’t have it both ways. If we want to intervene in Syria, humanitarian aid won’t cut it, and is in fact a back door methodology of forcing military intervention. If we don’t want to intervene, we shouldn’t. For America’s interest, it’s clear we should intervene, but only after we’ve determined what we want to come next or have found the intestinal fortitude to oust Assad without lionizing his opponents, allowing us to oust them if they end up opposing our interests.