Only Fools Rush In

By Gelb, Leslie H. | Newsweek, February 20, 2012 | Go to article overview

Only Fools Rush In


Gelb, Leslie H., Newsweek


Byline: Leslie H. Gelb

Violence in Syria escalates by the day. The drumbeat for war in Washington mounts. Why Obama should go slow.

Faced with evil, Americans always want to be on the side of the angels. So American interventionists, hawks, and human-rights types are banding together, as they did in Libya, to stop President Bashar al-Assad from killing his people. But when interventionists become avenging angels, they blind themselves and the nation, and run dangerously amok. They plunge in with no plans, with half-baked plans, with demands to supply arms to rebels they know nothing about, with ideas for no-fly zones and bombing. Their good intentions could pave the road to hell for Syrians--preserving lives today, but sacrificing many more later.

Characteristically, the interventionists aren't holding themselves to higher account; they're blaming President Obama. To them, it's all about his failure to act. But the president is moving sensibly and with due dispatch to restrain Assad's killings. He's squeezing the dictator economically and isolating him diplomatically. And while it doesn't look like much, it is suppressing Assad's freedom to slaughter. He has the military power to kill far more of his people. Meantime, President Obama is trying to fashion a coalition for more direct action--and it isn't easy.

The natural choice to blunt Assad's savagery, the Arab League, is practically useless. The league's "observer missions" have failed. (What a surprise!) Now, the league seeks a joint observer mission with the United Nations. Mind you, if the league really wanted to act decisively, it could, as it did against Colonel Gaddafi in Libya, under NATO cover.

Forget about the U.N. Security Council too. That august body couldn't even pass a mild resolution calling for a halt to violence on both sides--a measure that didn't even demand Assad's removal. Not wanting to encourage interventionary precedents, China and Russia vetoed it. Not to worry; the Security Council promises in its typically frivolous way to "remain actively seized of the matter."

It is no wonder, then, that U. …

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