Posted by on June 01, 2012 in Blog

When John McCain called for U.S. airstrikes in Syria a few months ago, he was the first high-ranking U.S. official to call for foreign military intervention in the country. Yesterday, McCain said it was “embarrassing that the United States of America refuses to show leadership and come to the aid of the Syrian people.” 

Of course, there is no denying that the situation in Syria is tragic, and that the Assad regime bears the brunt of responsibility for the abhorrent violence that has claimed more than 10,000 lives in a little over a year. But the correctness of a policy in a situation like this is measured by its likelihood to reduce the violence rather than exacerbate it. Given the serious prospect of wider civil war and potential regional war should direct military intervention take place, the wisdom of such intervention is in serious doubt.

Of course, I don’t pretend to know how best to deal with the bloody intractable mess in Syria (and ignoring it is neither morally nor strategically defensible), but I know this mess is very complicated. So is “embarrassing” really the right word to describe the difficulty we face in finding a more assertive role in Syria? Surely McCain would never describe it as “embarrassing” that the U.S. can’t intervene to end the serious violations of human rights in China, to say nothing of dozens of other problems that the U.S. can’t do much about. What is embarrassing is our unwillingness to correct course on matters that should be perfectly within our control; like being the wealthiest nation on earth but still unable to solve our healthcare crisis, or not being able to constrain the destructive behavior of a dependent ally (Israel) when it undermines our interests.

The tragedy in Syria is no embarrassment to America, which has a troubled history in the region and little productive leverage to end the violence. The tragedy in Syria, like that in many devastated spots around the globe, is an embarrassment to our entire species, which professes a commitment to universal human rights, but has repeatedly shown no qualms about trampling them in pursuit of political power.

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