The following article was published in the Washington Post on Sunday, September 1, 2013, and here on the Washington Post’s website on Friday, August 30, 2013.
Syrians are fond of saying that their country is “the beating heart of the Arab world,” having played an outsize role in the history and politics of the region, from the Islamic golden age in the 7th century and the Arab Revolt during World War I to the Arab-Israeli wars. After 21/ 2 years of civil conflict, however, it is becoming more difficult to think of Syria as the spirit and soul of the region.
Among the catalogue of horrors that Bashar al-Assad and his supporters have perpetrated against their people, the use of chemical weapons in Ghouta on Aug. 21 is particularly egregious. The consensus in Washington is that this violation of international norms — like Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait 23 summers ago — requires a military response. The Assad regime must be punished, and Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un must be made to think long and hard before they resort to weapons of mass destruction, too. This view may be principled, but the Obama administration and its allies should understand that even limited intervention would hasten Syria’s demise.
There was a moment early in the Syrian crisis when one could imagine that foreign intervention would have had salutary effects. In January 2012, I wrote that it was “time to think seriously about intervening in Syria” and laid out moral and strategic arguments in a piece for the Atlantic’s Web site.
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