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Missing in the Syrian Slaughter: U.S. Leadership

Missing in the Syrian Slaughter:  U.S. Leadership

The question about giving armed support to the Syrian people has now come front and center.  As is usually the case, if America doesn’t lead, nobody will.  It has become clear that the Obama Administration, has no stomach to do anything but “lead from behind”, a non-sequitur if ever there was one.

Leadership, however, does not come from behind; it comes from the front, both morally and physically. How can we not stand up for the oppressed people of Syria and continue to watch this slaughter of men women and children go on?  It has been estimated that approximately 10,000 people have been massacred in the streets, while the President goes to the Holocaust Museum, where we once said “never again”, and proclaims he is setting up an Atrocities Prevention Board (originally recommended four years ago by a bipartisan Genocide Prevention Task Force co-chaired by William Cohen and Madeleine Albright). As Senator McCain stated, “instead of standing up for the people of Syria, who are being massacred and slaughtered, tortured, raped,” we are standing by and waiting for the Russians to acquiesce to our policy. Every day brings a new story of further massacre of women, children and other innocents, and new resolutions from the feckless United Nations.

There are many strategic reasons for intervening militarily (there are powerful options available to us besides boots on the ground) in Syria. Somebody has to assume world leadership, and the United States with the strongest military on earth, now extricating itself from Iraq and Afghanistan, is the only democratic nation that has the moral suasion in the early 21st century to achieve the necessary result.

Let’s take a look at who are the allies of Syrian strongman Bashar Hafez al-Assad. We need to look no further than Iran. The Iranian revolutionary guards support Syria, and Hezbollah is dependent upon Iranian assistance. We stand by every day and watch Iran get closer to a nuclear bomb, and yet we look to the Chinese and the Russians to reach some agreement or pass some U.N. resolution, which Mr. Assad has now clearly indicated he finds laughable. He had the audacity to comment on a photo of a dead child and refer to the opposition as Israeli agents. U.N. observers who were sent to monitor the illusory ceasefire in Syria have been reduced to doing nothing more than adding up the bodies of massacred civilians.

In Hula, which is itself a collection of villages, they reported back that there were 108 bodies after a recent rampage by a government-backed militia. Most of the dead were not killed by long-range artillery, they were massacred, and some with their hands tied behind their back and shot at close range frequently mutilated with their hands cut off and their eyes poked out. To what extent can we simply avert our eyes and use diplomatic niceties in deference to Syria’s sovereignty. Nations forfeit their sovereignty when they murder their own innocents. And, by the way, the word sovereignty doesn’t mean a thing to the same United Nations when it comes to Israeli sovereignty over its own borders. There, the United Nations believes that it can ignore Israeli sovereignty and be complicit in the continuing threat and shelling of the Israeli people by Hamas.

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger recently gave a speech in Beijing where he stated:

In Syria, calls for humanitarian and strategic intervention merge.  At the heart of the Muslim world, Syria has, under Bashar al‑Assad, assisted Iran’s strategy in the Levant and Mediterranean.  It supported Hamas, which rejects the Israeli state, and Hezbollah, which undermines Lebanon’s cohesion.  The United States has strategic as well as humanitarian reasons to favor the fall of Assad and to encourage international diplomacy to that end. On the other hand, not every strategic interest rises to a cause for war; were it otherwise, no room would be left for diplomacy.

As military force is considered, several underlying issues must be addressed:  While the United States accelerates withdrawals from military interventions in neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan, how can a new military commitment in the same region be justified, particularly one likely to face similar challenges?

Does the new approach — less explicitly strategic and military, and geared more toward diplomatic and moral issues — solve the dilemmas that plagued earlier efforts in Iraq or Afghanistan, which ended in withdrawal and a divided America?  Or does it compound the difficulty by staking U.S. prestige and morale on domestic outcomes that America has even fewer means and less leverage to shape?

Who replaces the ousted leadership, and what do we know about it?  Will the outcome improve the human condition and the security situation?  Or do we risk repeating the experience with the Taliban, armed by America to fight the Soviet invader but then turned into a security challenge to us?

Mr. Kissinger opposes military intervention.  We happen to think he is right but only to the extent of sending troops.  Military support, however, is clearly justified if we can identify the opposition and a clear democratic political objective.  The bloodletting must stop.  If the world has learned anything, it is that intervention can work, as it did in Kosovo.  Moreover, don’t we know by now that failure to bomb the tracks to Auschwitz abetted German atrocities?

Continuing to do to nothing, as was our response when the people of Iran took to the streets to protest an outrageously sham election exposes the United States as weak.

For several months we hid behind Mr. Annan and his mission. Now that his plan has become nothing short of an embarrassment, a new trial balloon is being floated at the UN — a Syrian political transition modeled after that of Yemen where a corrupt leader was forced to step down.

We must face the facts.  NATO has never done anything without U.S. leadership. The Russians are not likely ever to want democracy in Syria and moreover, even if Mr. Putin could be persuaded to try and encourage Mr. Assad to leave, he lacks the means to force he and his gang of thugs out. The reality is that the killing in Syria will continue and the threat to vital U.S. interests across the Middle East will grow until Mr. Obama stops counting on the likes of peacemakers like the former U.N. Secretary General, or strong men like Vladimir Putin, or the Chinese leadership to rescue him from the responsibility which he, as the leader of the free and democratic world, must shoulder.  As The Washington Post put it, “The longer he waits, the greater the cost — in children’s lives, among other things.”

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