Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Michael Gerson:

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Michael Gerson:

Article excerpt

One little boy in a red T-shirt, lying face down, drowned, on a Turkish beach, is a tragedy. More than 200,000 dead in Syria, 4 million fleeing refugees and 7.6 million displaced from their homes are statistics. But they represent a collective failure of massive proportions.

For four years, the Obama administration has engaged in what Frederic Hof, former special adviser for transition in Syria, calls a "pantomime of outrage." Four years of strongly worded protests, and urgent meetings and calls for negotiation -- the whole drama a sickening substitute for useful action. People talking and talking to drown out the voice of their own conscience. And blaming. In 2013, President Obama lectured the United Nations Security Council for having "demonstrated no inclination to act at all." Psychological projection on a global stage.

Always there is Obama's weary realism. "It's not the job of the president of the United States to solve every problem in the Middle East." We must be "modest in our belief that we can remedy every evil."

But we are not dealing here with every problem or every evil; rather a discrete and unique set of circumstances: The largest humanitarian failure of the Obama era is also its largest strategic failure.

At some point, being "modest" becomes the same thing as being inured to atrocities. President Bashar al-Assad's helicopters continue to drop barrel bombs filled with shrapnel and chlorine. In recent attacks on Marea, Islamic State forces have used skin- blistering mustard gas and deployed, over a few days, perhaps 50 suicide bombers. We have seen starvation sieges, kidnappings, beheadings, and more than 10,000 dead children.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has changed her country's asylum rules to welcome every Syrian refugee that arrives. Syrians have taken to calling her "Mama Merkel, Mother of the Outcasts." I wonder what they call America's president.

At many points during the last four years, even relatively small actions might have reduced the pace of civilian casualties in Syria. How hard would it have been to destroy the helicopters dropping barrel bombs on neighborhoods? …

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