The West's helplessness in Syria

The U.S. should ignore calls from Congress and the media to take action against Bashar Al-Assad's bloody crackdown, because sadly, there's nothing we can do

Daniel Larison

The world's response to the bloodshed in Syria, or rather, the lack of a coherent response so far, is a somber reminder of the limits of American and Western power, and the tenuous nature of international political consensus. More than 1,300 Syrian civilians have been killed in the President Bashar Al-Assad's escalating crackdown against political protesters, which began in mid-March and has proven to be a much bloodier, more ruthless campaign of repression against overwhelmingly peaceful dissidents than anything that prompted U.N. authorization for military action in Libya. Strategically important, connected to powerful patrons, and stronger militarily than Libya, Syria is all the things that Libya was not, and it presents the West and its regional neighbors with the problem of a regime whose crimes other governments cannot readily prevent or punish.

The slower, weaker international response to greater Syrian brutality is one consequence of the hasty overreaction in Libya. In the wake of perceived U.S. and NATO overreach in implementing the U.N. mandate in Libya, major powers that did not block sanctions or military action three months ago are reluctant even to chastise Syria with toothless resolutions of condemnation. The draft resolution sponsored by Britain and France says as little as possible to avoid provoking a Russian or Chinese veto, and even the sort of sanctions that were speedily imposed on Libya will receive no backing at the Security Council now.

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Daniel Larison has a Ph.D. in history and is a contributing editor at The American Conservative. He also writes on the blog Eunomia.