While the civil war in Syria continues unabated, the United States finds itself in a difficult and precarious position. On the one hand, they often find themselves accused of meddling in other people's affairs, but when push comes to shove, there is no other power capable of taking the lead and stopping mass atrocities, as Libya reminded us. But Syria presents a really tough challenge to the international community. In contrast to the Libyan situation, there is actually strategic benefit in removing Assad from power, despite stopping a brutal genocide in the making, which obviously should be reason enough. But at the same time, any sort of intervention is likely to face serious opposition by a rather well-equipped army. Even humanitarian safe zones would require a robust military intervention for which no one currently has the resources, let alone the political will. So while the Russian and Chinese intransigence on the Syrian issue is really annoying, the simple truth is that it also hands the international community a cover for not acting, when so few would actually like or be able to act. Joshua Foust recently had a good piece on the dynamics of that.
Speaking at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum on Monday, President Obama outlined a number of policies designed to better deal with genocide and mass atrocities. The formal establishment of an Atrocities Prevention Board, however, leaves me wondering. Designed as a clearinghouse for intelligence, I have to ask: Is providing that sort of intelligence not the job of the CIA? The problem, as Syria demonstrates, is not one of bad intelligence, but of actual policy.