Exactly what these vital interests are is left unexplained.
For 40 years, we have lived with a Damascus regime led by either Bashar Assad or his father, Hafez Assad. Were our "vital interests" in peril all four decades?
In 1991, George H.W. Bush recruited the elder Assad into his Desert Storm coalition that liberated Kuwait. Damascus sent 4,000 troops. In gratitude, we hosted a Madrid Conference to advance a land-for-peace deal between Assad and Israel.
It failed, but it could have meant a return of the Golan Heights to Assad and Syria's return to the eastern bank of the Sea of Galilee.
We could live with that, but cannot live with Bashar?
Comes the reply: The reason is the Houla massacre, where more than 100 Syrians were slaughtered, mostly women and children, the most horrid atrocity in a 15-month war that has taken 10,000 lives.
We Americans cannot stand idly by and let this happen.
That massacre was indeed appalling, and apparently the work of rogue militia aligned with the regime. But in 1982, Bashar's father rolled his artillery up to the gates of Hama and, to crush an insurrection by the Muslim Brotherhood, fired at will into the city until 20,000 were dead.
What did America do? Nothing.
In Black September, 1970, Jordan's King Hussein used artillery on a Palestinian camp, killing thousands and sending thousands fleeing into Lebanon. During Lebanon's civil war from 1975 to 1990, more than 100,000 perished. In the 1980s, Iraq launched a war on Iran that cost close to a million dead.
We observed, content that our enemies were killing one another.
In 1992, Islamists in Algeria won the first round of voting and were poised to win the second. Democracy was about to produce a result undesired by the Western democracies. So Washington and Paris gave Algiers a green light to prevent the Islamists from coming to power. That Algerian civil war cost scores of thousands dead.
If Arab and Muslim peoples believe Americans are hypocrites who cynically consult their strategic interests before bemoaning Arab and Muslim victims of terror and war, do they not have a point?
As for the Post's idea of using U.S. air power to set up "safe zones" on Syrian soil, those are acts of war. What do we do if the Syrian army answers with artillery strikes on those safe zones or overruns one, inflicting a stinging defeat on the United States?
Would we accept the humiliation -- or escalate? What if Syrian air defenses start bringing down U.S. planes? What would we do if Syria's Hezbollah allies start taking Americans hostage in Lebanon?
Ronald Reagan sent the Marines into Lebanon in 1983. His intervention in that civil war resulted in our embassy being blown up and 241 Marines massacred in the bombing of the Beirut barracks. Reagan regarded it as the worst mistake of his presidency. Are we going to repeat it because Bashar has failed to live up to our expectations?
Consider the forces lining up on each side in what looks like a Syrian civil war and dress rehearsal for a regional sectarian war.
Against Assad's regime are the United States, the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaida, the Turks and Saudis and Sunni states of the Persian Gulf.
On Assad's side are his 300,000-strong army, the Alawite Shia in Syria, Druze, Christians and Kurds, all of whom fear a victory of the Brotherhood, and Russia, Iran and Hezbollah.
The question for our bellicose interventionists is this:
How much treasure should be expended, how much American blood shed so the Muslim Brotherhood can depose the Assad dynasty, take power and establish an Islamist state in Syria?
"Tell me how this thing ends," said Gen. David Petraeus at the onset of our misbegotten Iraq War. If we begin providing weapons to those seeking the overthrow of Assad, as the Post urges, it will be a fateful step for this republic.
We will be morally responsible for the inevitable rise in dead and wounded from the war we will have fueled. We will have committed our prestige to Assad's downfall. As long as he survives, it will be seen as a U.S. defeat and humiliation.
And once the U.S. casualties come, the cry of the war party will come -- for victory over Assad, Hezbollah, Iran, Russia! We will be on our way into another bloody debacle in a region where there is no vital U.S. interest but perhaps oil, which these folks have to sell to survive.
Before the religious and ethnic conflicts of Europe were sorted out, it took centuries of bloodletting, and our fathers instructed us to stay out of these quarrels that were none of our business.
Syria in 2012 is even less our business.