Respekterte James Traub spør i Foreign Policy hva det er som gjør at verden kan sitte stille og se på hva som skjer i Syria. «Verden» er ensbetydende med USA.
Hvordan kan USA under sin mest liberale president noensinne godta at sivile bevisst rammes som i Syria?
Svaret er «hensyn». Obama tenker ikke først og fremst på lidelsene og plikten til å handle ut fra de moralske imperativ verden har forpliktet seg på etter Bosnia og Rwanda. Han tenker at han ikke orker å bli involvert i enda en krig i et muslimsk land, dette skal være en viktig grunn. Han tenker at amerikanerne ikke vil forstå og godta et nytt militært engasjement. Det vil kunne direkte avleses på meningsmålingene og ved neste valg.
Obama er blitt en president som dilter etter. Under Libya-kampanjen sa han at USA skulle «lead from behind». Dette uttrykket har forfulgt ham. En supermakt som vil lede fra baktroppen er ikke lenger en supermakt.
Obamas vakling i Syria kommer tilbake og hjemsøker ham. Lidelsene stiger og blikket vendes mot presidenten som verden forventer mest av, ut fra de forventningene han selv har skapt.
Eller kanskje ikke verden forventer like mye lenger?
Clinton måtte tvinges til å gripe inn i Bosnia av Tony Blair. Obama har den samme liberale kvietisme som ikke liker vold.
President Bill Clinton desperately did not want to intervene in Bosnia. He feared the political costs of a failed intervention in the aftermath of the «Black Hawk Down» fiasco in Somalia in 1993. And he had convinced himself that Balkan blood feuds were immemorial and incurable, and thus that any deeper American engagement was likely to fail. Clinton worked to bring about a negotiated solution, hoping all the while that Europe would act. Unwilling to make a credible threat of force, the administration «applied a combination of half-measures and bluster that didn’t work,» as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright writes in her memoirs.
President Barack Obama has also said repeatedly that the situation is Syria is hopelessly intractable. In a recent interview, Obama insisted that it’s «a false notion that somehow we were in a position to, through a few selective strikes, prevent the kind of hardship that we’ve seen in Syria.» Of course, no one has suggested that «a few selective strikes» would have toppled the Syrian regime. Rather, in 2012, several of his most senior advisors, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and CIA Director David Petraeus, proposed a much more serious effort to arm Syria’s moderate rebels. Obama declined to act, just as Bill Clinton did until the killings in Srebrenica finally forced his hand. Obama, too, has hoped for a negotiated solution which has never had a ghost of a chance of succeeding without the threat of force.
We can’t know for sure what’s going on inside the president’s head. What we do know is that he delayed acting as long as he could after his own Srebrenica moment — the chemical attacks which killed 1,200 Syrians and thus crossed his «red line» — and then seized on a Russian offer to remove the regime’s chemical weapons rather than launch airstrikes. Obama is convinced that a deeper American engagement will fail, and he knows that such a failure would have grave political costs. Put otherwise, his acute awareness of the costs has predisposed him to listen to advisors who say that intervention of any kind won’t work. The number of the dead in Syria now exceeds 150,000, with the regime in Damascus rolling barrel bombs out of helicopters into civilian areas. Obama has chosen not to destroy those helicopters with airstrikes, or to equip rebels with the capacity to shoot them down.
And yet this is the president who has established an Atrocities Prevention Board and who has surrounded himself with leading advocates of the responsibility to protect, including Susan Rice and Samantha Power. Obama did, of course, agree, if reluctantly, to join the NATO coalition assembled to prevent the expected mass killings in Libya were Muammar al-Qaddafi to have taken Benghazi in 2011. Yet Syria has proved too hard, as Bosnia did for Clinton until Srebrenica.
Presidenten venter på at opinionen skal svinge og kreve intervensjon i Syria. Men det kommer ikke til å skje. Grusomhetene er så store på begge sider at opinion rygger tilbake.
En president kan ikke skyve opinionen foran seg. Han må lede. Han må vise at det er et ansvar som veier tyngre enn meningsmålinger. Obama har ikke levd opp til et slikt lederskap.
The price of failure will remain prohibitively high so long as voters feel little urgency about stopping atrocities abroad. If, on the other hand, broad publics, and not just newspaper columnists and political opponents, clamor for some kind of intervention, the president’s political calculus will change. But no leader can wait for public opinion on so agonizing an issue to change by itself. We need a president brave enough to explain to Americans why it is profoundly in their own interest, as well as humanity’s, to act in such dire settings.