Susan Rice gave her last news conference at the UN before starting her new job as National Security Advisor yesterday, calling the West’s inaction in Syria “a moral and strategic disgrace that history will judge harshly.”
Susan Rice is well known as an architect of the “humanitarian intervention” in Libya, and after the Rwandan genocide she famously said “I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required.” She has remained cautious regarding Syria, but it’s telling that she used her last day at the UN to label the Security Council’s reluctance to intervene in the Syrian civil war “a stain…something that I will forever regret.”
Here at Via Meadia, though we’re not humanitarian interventionists, we’re also far from isolationists. The human toll in Syria is very real: even as Susan Rice was giving her last speech Syrian activists noted that the latest tally of deaths from the 27 months of conflict had passed a milestone: 100,000. That includes, among others, 36,661 civilians, 25,407 members of Assad’s forces, 13,539 Syrian rebels, and 169 Hezbollah fighters.
But as we’ve seen with Libya, the costs of a purely humanitarian intervention shorn of broader strategic interests can have seriously bad consequences. In Syria, there have always been important arguments for unseating Assad. Doing so would have sent a strong message to Tehran that Washington means what it says. As a result, as one former Obama administration put it, “events in Syria are spinning in Iran’s favor.”
Intervening now is like sticking a hand into a hornets’ nest. There are few options and all of them are bad. Perhaps doing something sooner would have improved the situation for the poor Syrian civilians and American strategic interests alike; perhaps not. All we know now is that sectarianism is on the rise everywhere as groups choose opposing sides of a distant conflict and the entire region is drawn further down the Syrian black hole.
[Susan Rice photo courtesy of Getty Images]