Observers of the bloodbath unfolding in Syria may be tempted to criticize the administration’s equivocation and inaction. But Bloomberg columnist Jeffrey Goldberg begs to differ:
The Obama administration hasn’t helped to arm the rebels, nor has it created safe havens for persecuted dissidents. But it has done something far more important: It has provided the Syrian opposition with very strong language to describe Assad’s various atrocities.
The administration’s unprecedented verbal and written sorties against the Assad regime have included some of the most powerful adjectives, adjectival intensifiers and adverbs ever aimed at an American foe. This campaign has helped Syrians understand, among other things, that the English language contains many synonyms for “repulsive.”
But alas, this strategy is quickly exhausting itself:
[A] crisis is fast approaching: America’s stockpile of vivid adjectives is being depleted rapidly. Some linguists of the realist camp are now arguing for restraint in the use of condemnatory word combinations. They note that the administration, in its effort to shock and awe the Assad regime with the power of its official statements and the stridency of its State Department briefings, has prematurely stripped bare its thesaurus, leaving the U.S. powerless to come to the symbolic aid of the Syrian people.
In the remainder of his piece, Goldberg chronicles the escalation of America’s verbal assaults on the Assad regime, exposing the sheer bluster of the administration’s rhetoric throughout the current crisis. It’s probably the wittiest and most informative way to bring yourself up to speed on U.S. policy in Syria so far—or lack thereof.
Of course, it’s easy to sneer. The tragedy unfolding in Syria is genuinely horrific, but it is not as if there were some simple and easy way to make the killing stop. It is not at all clear that what follows Assad will be a lot better than what we see now; Lebanon on one side and Iraq on the other both offer examples of how badly things can fall apart in this part of the world — and how little foreign intervention can sometimes accomplish.
The policy issues the administration faces in Syria are serious and grave, but the rhetoric has gotten out of hand. Words are not as cheap as they sometimes appear; after a while you begin to look as foolish and empty as your threats.