Another Massacre in Syria
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  • “But we also think this stuff is hard: harder, actually, than the old kind of amoral chess match kind of foreign policy. And sloganeering professors and moralistic loudmouths usually cause a lot more harm than good when they wade into complicated situations they do not understand while chasing their various illusions. Promising the moon but delivering chaos and bloodshed is pretty much standard operating procedure for the missionary mentality when, untested and inexperienced, it gets into power.”

    Hard doesn’t begin to describe it (and yes, I know you folks know that: understatement IS both a virtue and an oasis in today’s subtlety- and reality-challenged political climate, and I do appreciate it once in a while). In general, thanks for as scathing an indictment of the missionary position in foreign policy as I have read in quite a while. And whether you meant to or not, I think your juxtaposing of both missionary and chessmaster approaches is all to the point: how often are the results more or less the same in terms of “chaos and bloodshed”?

  • thibaud

    What policy course does Mead recommend?

  • Eurydice

    I have to agree with thibaud here – what do you think should be done?

  • f1b0nacc1

    To those asking what policy course should be adopted, I offer the following:

    NOTHING…this isn’t our affair, and we shouldnt’ be involved. Other than (possibly) taking (limited) steps to prevent Syrian WMDs from falling into the wrong hands (and in a previous thread, I mentioned why I think that there is much less to this problem than meets the eye), the US should do absolutely nothing. If the EU wants to get involved, then wish them well (or not, as one’s sympathies might dictate) and simply make it clear that we have no interest whatsoever in bailing them out.

    ‘Sloganeering professors and moralistic loudmoths’ (Susan Rice and Samantha Powers, authors of our disastrously worngheaded intervention in Libya come immediately to mind) should be kept far away from the levers of power, particularly when they show an inclination to use our military for international social work. Lets be very clear about this….both sides in Syria are very bad people, and no matter who wins, the US will gain nothing, and likely lose something. It is tragic that the Syrian people are caught in the middle of this mess, but there is nothing that we can do to rescue them, and the sooner that we behave like adults and accept this truth, the better off everyone will be.

    Let the Iranians commit scarce resources in a vain attempt to prop up Assad, and let the [characterization deleted] Islamists waste lives and treasure trying to overthrow the tyrant. No matter who wins, all that will change are the faces on the money, the villany will remain in place.

  • thibaud

    Mead’s views are even more opaque than Mitt Romney’s.

    What does Mr Mead recommend as US policy here?

  • Stephen D. Owen

    “The dead will continue to pile up in Syria while the contrast between the Obama administration’s overblown rhetoric and its pygmy performance continues to undermine the authority of the U.S. even as it stores up trouble for the future.”

    This article was all well and good, pretty much stating the obvious regarding the situation in Syria, albeit in a very eloquent manner until the above quoted section. This comment reeks of political bias.

    What does the venerable Mead want? A return to the good old days of Rock ’em Sock ’em Bush administration foreign policy. It would appear so. And where did that get us or the world? Does he want the dead piling up in Syria to be Americans and British soldiers a la Afghanistan and Iraq?

    Much as I personally abhor the present brutal Syrian regime, I can totally understand the US’s current cautious and measured approach to the crisis. Without Russian support (and perhaps even with it) any physical Western intervention would doom us to another protracted and costly military and administrative quagmire.

    In reality the best solution in this situation is sadly to do nothing. Do nothing to stand in the way of military and financial support finding its way into the hands of the FSA and do nothing to become embroiled in another middle-eastern conflict that will ultimately, in the long term, transfer power from a cruel and intolerant dictator to an equally cruel and intolerant religious oligarchy no matter what “The West” would like to see happen.

  • Eurydice

    @fibonacci #4 – I wonder if the Obama administration might not agree with you. The thing about the “right to protect” argument for Libya is that it was countered by “just because we haven’t intervened elsewhere doesn’t mean we shouldn’t intervene here, or that we’ll go on to intervene somewhere else,” – plus, there was the additional mushiness of “leading from behind.” It seems as if the fiery rhetoric is for the professors and loudmouths of the left and the half-hearted action is for the professors and loudmouths of the right.

    It’s hard to imagine that Prof. Mead wrote this post. He knows the difficulties and nuances of foreign policy, of what things need to be said and what things can’t be said and of how small wars can involve large players. Anything to do with Syria involves the large players in the region, as well as Russia, China amd Europe, to various extents. This post only pays lip-service to that understanding.

    Ideas and ideals are not out of place, but neither is reality. Perhaps we should focus on what positive and helpful things we can do which reflect our interest in human rights and the dignity of the individual. There are a lot of refugees fleeing this situation – perhaps we can help them in some way.

  • GlennGeo

    Isn’t Syria more ‘normal’ than Libya? It always seemed to me that Libya was really only about going along with France to secure the Libyan oil, and “never again” was just words to justify the French economic self-interest. What am I missing?

  • f1b0nacc1


    I hope that the Obamabots don’t agree with me…it would undermine my confidence! (grin)….

    The argument that the rhetoric is for the left while the intervention is for the right ignores the fact that the terrible twosome of Powers and Rice both argued for the ill-fated intervention in Libya, and have been agitating for some variety of intervention (proving that like the Bourbons they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing) in Syria as well. We have no compelling interests in Syria, and can achieve nothing positive there in any event. We would be best advised to understand this simple truth and stay out of what will only be an ugly situation.

    We can regret the human rights tragegy all we want, but there isn’t much we can do. These states are sinkholes of backwardness and barbarism, and (to paraphrase Bismark) not worth bones of a single grenadier. If we have a viable national interest, intervention (preferably of the “rubble don’t make trouble” variety) can be rationalized. Here we would be doing no more than influencing (if that) which group of degenerate barbarians get to be in charge of a helpless civilian population that would resent any attempt to rescue them in the first place.

  • Eurydice


    It may be as GlennGeo has surmised – that Libya is not the norm. That seemed to have been the case when the president was asked to explain why Libya and why not the other sinkholes of death out there. He used a lot more words but the answer boiled down to, “Because this time we want to and the other times we didn’t.” Perhaps this is what the original poster means by “the serene amorality of Catherine the Great”, I don’t know. In any case, I agree with you about Syria and about intervention in general.

  • f1b0nacc1


    I am not against intervention in all cases, only when there is not a clearly defined American interest at stake, and when the intervention will clearly serve that interest. Even then, I would prefer to see that intervention limited and strictly tailored to the interest in question…typically following the “rubble don’t make trouble” approach when possible. Something of a crude approach, I concede, but easily understood, and generally rather effective.

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