From the beginning of the Syria crisis almost three years ago, the Obama administration has found reasons to remain aloof. Every option for U.S. involvement — arming moderate rebels, enforcing a no-fly zone, carving out humanitarian corridors — entailed risks. But every imperfect option for action must be weighed against the risks of inaction: What happens if the United States fails to help shape or contain a dangerous situation? In that framework, it’s instructive to look at just one day’s news from the region:
— Syrian government helicopters on Monday dropped “barrel bombs” on residential neighborhoods in the nation’s largest city, rebel-controlled Aleppo. The bombs “are typically packed with screws, scrap metal, old car parts, blades and explosives,” an activist told the Wall Street Journal. Scores of people were killed, including at least 28 children.
— In Geneva, the United Nations launched an appeal for a record-setting $6.5 billion to help Syrians who have lost their homes and livelihoods and are being starved by government forces. In a nation of 22 million people, 8 million are in need of humanitarian assistance.
— The Washington Post reported that extremist factions allied with al-Qaida, which now control swaths of Syrian territory, are training children as young as 10 as combatants.
— In Iraq, “suicide bombers and gunmen killed scores” as that nation tipped back “into its deadliest levels of violence in five years,” Reuters reported. Iraq’s regression has numerous causes, but no factor looms larger than the spillover from al-Qaida’s growing presence in Syria.
A day’s gleaning from the U.S. press inevitably leaves out many issues: the strains imposed on Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan by hundreds of thousands of refugees; the imperilment of Syria’s Christian minority; the irreparable loss of archeological sites and centuries-old mosques and souks, and more. Still, the litany of one day is sobering enough.
As misery spreads and anti-American radicals plant roots, the Obama administration, or its successor, may find that the costs of non-involvement far exceed those that would have come with timely and measured intervention.
The Washington Post (Dec. 17)