Commentary Magazine


Can Susan Rice Spur Syria Intervention?

President Obama is making important changes on his national security team, which will serve to elevate the status of both Susan Rice, slated to be the new national security adviser, and Samantha Power, who will be nominated to be the next UN ambassador. Both Rice and Power are known for their humanitarian interventionist viewpoints; they were widely seen as two of the key advocates for military action in Libya in 2011. Perhaps in their new positions they can make the case to Obama more effectively for greater American involvement in Syria where the situation continues to spiral downward.

The anti-Assad rebels appeared to have suffered a serious blow with the loss of the strategic town of Qusayr to a joint Syrian-Hezbollah offensive. Meanwhile, evidence continues to accumulate that Bashar Assad has used chemical weapons: Both Britain and France have added further facts on that score, with the French foreign minister reporting, in the words of one press account, that “samples of body fluids taken from victims in Syria and tested at a French laboratory — including urine samples carried out of Syria by French reporters — ‘prove the presence of sarin,’ a poisonous nerve gas.”

The use of chemical weapons–supposedly a “red line” for Obama–has also been further confirmed by the UN Human Rights Council, which finds in a new report that the conflict in Syria “has reached new levels of brutality.” According to the report: “Government forces and affiliated militia have committed murder, torture, rape, forcible displacement, enforced disappearance and other inhumane acts. Many of these crimes were perpetrated as part of widespread or systematic attacks against civilian populations and constitute crimes against humanity.” The report also finds that anti-government forces have committed war crimes, while adding: “The violations and abuses committed by anti-Government armed groups did not, however, reach the intensity and scale of those committed by Government forces and affiliated militia.”

Considering that Power and to a lesser extent Rice have argued that the U.S. has a “responsibility to protect” populations subject to genocide or other war crimes, it would be disheartening indeed if the administration in which they serve at increasingly senior levels were to continue to do little as the list of atrocities in Syria pile up. Especially when there is growing support in the region for action. Just this week Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, a Turkish academic and diplomat who is head of the 57-country Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), called for the imposition of a no-fly zone in Syria. However much Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and other regional allies would support such a step, they are not going to impose a no-fly zone on their own. That depends on American leadership, which so far has been conspicuously missing.