The New York Times reports CIA operatives are playing at least an indirect role in getting arms to the Syrian opposition. It has become customary among the thoughtful American opposition to pat President Barack Obama on the back for doing the right thing half-heartedly and very late. So, congratulations Mr. President. (See how fair-minded we are!)
Is this the first step in an American effort to get rid of the bloodthirsty dictator—and Iran’s ally—Bashar al-Assad? Let’s hope so, because it’s become all too clear how thoroughly miserable homegrown liberation efforts are without American involvement. Indeed, one of the most pressing geopolitical questions of our time has become: what do we do about destabilizing freedom movements in the age of American indifference?
The results of Obama’s hands-off doctrine are inarguable.
Iran’s Green Movement? Stopped in its tracks by the theocratic thugs Washington’s been courting for three-plus years. Torture, arrest, assassination—Iranian democrats faced the full arsenal of fear while the United States pursued an impossible accommodation with Tehran.
In Tunisia, revolt paved the way for Islamist rule. And that’s the success story of the Arab Spring.
Egypt’s Tahrir Square protest turned out to be a military coup d’état in liberal disguise. The only thing threatening the Egyptian army now is the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. Without American involvement Egypt has become a war of the horribles, and the public square is a no-man’s land for liberals.
Muammar Qaddafi was poised to slaughter tens of thousands of unorganized rebels and still America resisted involvement. It took Nicolas Sarkozy to lead the free world into halting a mass atrocity. And after reluctant American air power stopped Qaddafi, American reticence saw Libya unravel into a lawless revenge state, while the fighting and weapons reconstituted as a terrorist war in northern Mali.
In Syria, Bashar Assad has gone ahead with the kind of killing the Obama administration congratulated itself on stopping in Libya. The United States has elected illiberal Russia—whose own protesters we’ve ignored—to liberate the Syrian people through diplomacy. It was a move akin to throwing water on a grease fire. Vladimir Putin wasted no time in arming Assad for an escalated civil war.
Let’s put this kaleidoscope of evil up against the conventional wisdom of today’s foreign policy elite. Peter Beinart looked upon the early fruits of the Arab Spring and declared, “The lesson is that even in a post-American world, democracy has legs.” Thomas Friedman looked upon the same and offered a droll warning of his own: “Let’s root for it, without being in the middle of it.” And Fareed Zakaria, the real-time historian of the post-American world, saw that “for the first time in perhaps a millennium, the Arab people are taking charge of their own affairs,” and praised the Libya operation as “a new model in that it involved an America that insisted on legitimacy and burden sharing, that allowed the locals to own their revolution.”
All these claims were very fashionable in their anti-Bush sentiment, but time has exposed them as weak and unsuited to reality. A post-American world is taking shape, but it’s a much nastier place than the American world that birthed it. Locals are indeed owning their own revolutions—revolutions that flail and die out while America “roots” for democracy on the sidelines.
There is a debate to be had about both the moral and strategic consequences of American intervention. There is a much stickier debate to be had about the shape and extent of such intervention. But let us not flatter ourselves that America has been doing the right and good thing by ignoring this tectonic upheaval and showing indifference to the few liberal friends we have in the lands of autocracy and fanaticism.