WASHINGTON -- Last year President Obama ordered U.S. intervention in Libya under the grand new doctrine of "Responsibility to Protect." Moammar Gaddafi was threatening a massacre in Benghazi. To stand by and do nothing "would have been a betrayal of who we are," explained the president.
In the year since, the government of Syria has more than threatened massacres. It has carried them out. Nothing hypothetical about the disappearances, executions, indiscriminate shelling of populated neighborhoods. More than 9,000 are dead.
Obama has said that we cannot stand idly by. And what has he done? Stand idly by.
Yes, we've imposed economic sanctions. But as with Iran, the economic squeeze has not altered the regimes behavior. Monday's announced travel and financial restrictions on those who use social media to track down dissidents is a pinprick. No Disney World trips for the chiefs of the Iranian and Syrian security agencies. And they might now have to park their money in Dubai instead of New York. That'll stop 'em.
Obamas other major announcement -- at Washington's Holocaust Museum, no less -- was the creation of an Atrocities Prevention Board.
I kid you not. A board. Russia flies planeloads of weapons to Damascus. Iran supplies money, trainers, agents, more weapons. And what does America do? Support a feckless U.N. peace mission that does nothing to stop the killing. (Indeed, some of the civilians who met with the peacekeepers were summarily executed.) And establish an Atrocities Prevention Board.
With multiagency participation, mind you. The liberal faith in the power of bureaucracy and flowcharts, of committees and reports, is legend. But this is parody.
Now, there's an argument to be made that we do not have a duty to protect. That foreign policy is not social work. That you risk American lives only when national security and/or strategic interests are at stake, not merely to satisfy the humanitarian impulses of some of our leaders.
But Obama does not make this argument. On the contrary. He goes to the Holocaust Museum to commit himself and his country to defend the innocent, to affirm the moral imperative of rescue. And then does nothing of any consequence.
His case for passivity is buttressed by the implication that the only alternative to inaction is military intervention -- bombing, boots on the ground.
Copyright 2012 Washington Post Writers Group