Bashar Assad Slaughters Babies
Its job is to “help the U.S government identify and address atrocity threats,” in the midst of one of the worst “atrocity threats” in recent memory. When asked Wednesday if the Atrocities Prevention Board has even met to discuss Syria, White House press secretary Jay Carney could only say, “I don’t know the answer to that.” Maybe the board is still busy conducting its interagency review.
This isn’t a joke. It is an insult to Assad’s victims.
The board illustrates the worst features of progressive foreign policy. First, it is all talk. One way to “mobilize consciences,” our most sophisticated experts say, is through persuasion, negotiation, and rhetoric. If only we talk to our enemies more, they say, we might convince them to see the world through our eyes. Many powers, including the United States, therefore allowed Syrian ambassadors to remain in their territory even as they served a government that has killed more than 9,000 people over the last 15 months. It took the outrage in Houla for the “civilized world” to kick the Syrian diplomats out. Yet the president and his advisers remain committed to pursuing the talking cure, as they indulge Kofi Annan in his pathetic visits to Damascus and try desperately to convince the Russians that losing their strategic and economic and historic Assad allies is somehow in their interest.
Another way to mobilize consciences is through institutionalizing collective action. In other words, you hold meetings—lots and lots of meetings. Working groups are organized. Security councils assemble. Hearings are convened. By involving as many stakeholders as possible in “the process,” the story goes, a global leader makes it easier to achieve consensus and wear down the ability of malefactors to wreak havoc. The endless summits on the future of the Euro that have been held over the last two-plus years constitute a sort of traveling E.U. Collapse Prevention Board, and have attempted to mobilize the consciences of Germans and Greeks. These attempts have failed. As have the efforts to staunch the bleeding in Syria through assemblies of the Arab League, the United Nations, and NATO.
The belief that passive institutions will produce good results reflects the progressive doctrine of history. Good progressives such as Obama believe that history unfolds in a process that will one day reach an endpoint at, of all places, Denmark. The iron laws that govern this process are above human reach. Denmark is the future for all mankind, whether we like it or not. This is what Obama means whenever he says that the arc of history bends toward justice. But trusting in the process of historical development breeds an apathetic attitude toward the here and now. When Obama finally came out against Assad in February, he said the Syrian regime is on the road to “inevitable collapse.” How does he know? Assad is still here, unfortunately, and he is still remarkably deadly. Not history but human agency will be what removes him and his faction from power.