The simple truth is that Obama has bigger fish to fry. Yes, there is a strong humanitarian argument for intervention — but it’s the Arab League and willing Europeans who should step up to the plate now that Turkey’s impotence has been exposed. The United States has other new responsibilities: To respond effectively to a rising China, it is essential to disengage from the futile pursuit of stability in North Africa, the Middle East, and Afghanistan. Their endless crises capture far too much policy attention and generate pressures for extremely costly military interventions that increase rather than reduce terrorist violence.
By contrast, China’s neighbors increasingly boast democratic governments, with economically advancing populations that seek only the reassurance of American strategic engagement. They welcome Americans who visit in great and increasing numbers for business, tourism, and even missionary work (something that can be a death sentence in the Arab Spring countries). Beijing, meanwhile, continues to cooperate with the United States in a great many ways — but it now also threatens the maritime domains of Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam, as well as the territorial integrity of India.
The challenge is to respond to China’s almost daily intrusions in a nuanced, non-provocative way, so as to strengthen Beijing’s moderates — they do exist — and dissuade its hawks, who may now include newly installed President Xi Jinping. To do that, the U.S. government needs not only aircraft carriers and intense diplomacy, but also a steady focus, undistracted by crises elsewhere, especially in the combustible Middle East.