Trump’s response to the Syrian nightmare, and especially his utter lack of empathy for the children of Syria, is disgusting. (It is part and parcel of his general lack of empathy about everyone not named “Trump.”) But the bloodletting is not his fault. Invoking Trump’s heartlessness and stupidity is not a substitute for holding responsible the people who allowed Syria to descend into hell.
American inaction on Syria was the coagulated result of several factors, including President Obama’s simplistic beliefs about Middle Eastern affairs, the callous political calculations of his White House staff, the administration’s lumbering and poorly managed interagency process, and the institutional weakness of Secretary of State John Kerry. The few advocates within the administration for a response against Assad were outflanked. (Clinton claims she pressed earlier for a different policy, but if that is true, it only confirms what an ineffectual secretary of State she truly was.)
In the wake of all of this fecklessness, the Syrian people have been consigned to slaughter. Today, Assad acts with impunity while Russian jets fly missions out of Iran, a result of the administration’s shocking abdication of a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy—that is, to limit Russian power in the region—since the end of World War II. This was an outcome many of us saw coming years ago and said so at the time with great alarm.