14
Feb

Syria’s a tragedy. But it’s not our problem.

By David Rieff

Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of (humanitarian) war. That, at least, is what much of the U.S. policy elite seems to be pushing for these days in Syria. That many of the “permahawks,” like Fouad Ajami, Max Boot, and Elliott Abrams, who championed the George W. Bush administration’s decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein, are now calling for supporting the uprising against Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship should come as no surprise to anyone. Nor should similar calls from most of the liberal writers and editors associated with the New Republic magazine come as a shock. They, too, have been remarkably consistent, and the magazine’s current symposium on what needs to be done next in Syria is eerily reminiscent of the one it ran the year after the invasion of Iraq, which tilted so lopsidedly toward justifying the war, though not the way the Bush administration was prosecuting it.

What is surprising, though, is that despite the disaster of Iraq, looming withdrawal in what will amount to defeat in Afghanistan, and, to put it charitably, the ambiguous result of the U.N.-sanctioned, NATO-led, and Qatari-financed intervention that brought down Muammar al-Qaddafi’s regime, is how nearly complete the consensus for strong action has been even among less hawkish liberals, whether what is done takes the form of the United States and its NATO allies arming the Free Syrian Army, opening so-called humanitarian corridors, or encouraging Turkey and a coalition of the willing within the Arab League to do so. British columnist Jonathan Freedland summed up this view when he wrote recently in the Guardian that the West must not “make the people of Homs pay the price for the mistake we made in Baghdad.”

In reality, though, liberal interventionists were never as shaken by the lessons of Iraq as was commonly supposed. Anyone doubting this need only look at the extraordinary mobilization for some sort of humanitarian and human rights-based intervention in Darfur in 2005 and 2006. This movement included a number of figures who now occupy important positions in Barack Obama’s administration, notably Susan Rice, now U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations, and Samantha Power, now senior director for multilateral affairs at the National Security Council, and who are generally assumed to have played an important role (if not quite the central one sometimes attributed to them) in persuading Obama to intervene in Libya. Nothing is wrong with intervention, it seems (just as there is nothing wrong with drone strikes), just as long as it is done by good U.N.-loving, multilateralism-oriented Democrats from the coasts, rather than by ignorant, war-worshipping, vulgarly nationalistic Republicans from flyover country. Read more…

David Rieff is the author, most recently, of Against Remembrance, a critique of political memory. He is completing a book on the global food crisis.

As published in www.foreignpolicy.com on February 13, 2012.

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