I tend to be wary of the military toolbox, and I strongly opposed the Iraq war and the Afghan “surge.” But in conjunction with diplomacy, military force can save lives. We saw that in Bosnia and Kosovo under Bill Clinton (who appears to favor a more forceful American approach in Syria), and we saw that just this year in Mali.
The problem is that overcommitments in Afghanistan and Iraq have left us with society-wide PTSD, so that we’re wary of engaging in Syria at all. Obama’s passivity is easy to understand: only one-fifth of the American public favors arming rebels.
But when I was last in Syria, in November, I met a grandma who had already lost her husband, her son and her daughter-in-law to the Assad regime. She was living in her fifth home that year, a leaky tent, wondering who would die next, and like everyone was desperate for international support. “We ask for God’s help in ending this, and Obama’s,” she said.
What do we tell her? That we don’t have the stomach to help her? That we’d rather wait until all her grandkids have died and the death toll has reached hundreds of thousands and embarrassed us to take firmer action?