Paul Greenberg

Peace in our time hasn't changed all that much since the 1930s, which inevitably led to the cataclysmic 1940s. For the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil in the world, as Edmund Burke once observed, is that good men do nothing. Case in disastrous point: A good man but a poor statesman named Neville Chamberlain couldn't understand why his countrymen should grow so exercised about "a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing." He found out soon enough, and so did an imperiled free world. Only a Winston Churchill could see the mounting danger ahead.

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The few warning voices that have long called for American action to support the forces of freedom in Syria -- like John McCain and Lindsey Graham in the U.S. Senate -- have been ignored far too long. Along with the strategic consequences of this administration's lassitude while tens of thousands die and millions flee, overwhelming the resources of neighboring countries and threatening their stability.

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Vali Nasr, now a dean at John Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies, is no longer with the Obama administration, and one can understand why, for he is much too close to the mark for comfort when he writes:

"Events in Syria are spinning in Iran's favor. Assad's regime is winning ground, the war has made Iran more comfortable in its nuclear pursuits, and Iran's gains have embarrassed U.S. allies that support the Syrian uprising. What's more, Iran has strengthened its relationship with Russia, which may prove to be the most important strategic consequence of the Syrian conflict, should the U.S. continue to sit it out."
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Now, at agonizingly long last, the administration may act, not just talk about acting. Some time ago, this wavering president warned that the use of chemical weapons like sarin in Syria would be a "red line." That line grew increasingly faint. Now the White House has recognized evidence that such weapons have indeed been used in Syria, and signaled that Washington may finally offer the forces of freedom in Syria besides hope betrayed. Maybe desperately needed weapons, and even no-fly zones over that country, which might give the Free Syrian Army some air cover.

But it would be a mistake to make our involvement in Syria's civil war depend on debatable evidence about weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein needed to go because he represented a clear and dangerous threat, not just to his people, but to the stability of a region as vital to world peace as the middle of Europe once was.

There are much better and clearer reasons as to why Bashar al-Assad in Syria needs to go at last and his country be set free. To take the lead in such an effort is a hazardous undertaking, almost as hazardous as not leading. For we can all see where this administration lethargy has led.

The use of chemical weapons in Syria may at last provide the occasion for American intervention, but it would scarcely be the cause, which goes far deeper. Like saving the Middle East. Here's hoping Washington will finally act, and act with determination. To quote Wellington, the Iron Duke, "a great country can have no such thing as a little war." It was a later British prime minister, known as the Iron Lady, who once had to remind another American president that now is no time to go wobbly.

What has been lacking in this administration's foreign policy has been what a foreign policy most calls for: constancy of purpose. In short, what has been lacking in this administration's strategy in the Middle East is a strategy. Instead, we have had an ad-hoc foreign policy under the aegis of President Innocent Bystander, not leadership or direction. Can that be changing? Does this latest flicker of hope out of Washington portend an American awakening? It can't happen too soon.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.


 


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