This is a contribution to ‘What Should the United States Do About Syria?: A TNR Symposium.’ This symposium was convened to consider the question of what the United States should do about the crisis in Syria. And yet, most of the contributions have been about a narrower concern: what the U.S. can do. It is a sign that uppermost in the minds of most Americans are the limits of American power. Certainly they are uppermost in President Obama’s mind. But what I can’t stop thinking about are the consequences of allowing the Assad regime to prevail in Syria.
Thousands of people have already died in Syria, and it appears likely that thousands more will die in the weeks and months to come. Bashar Al Assad’s forces show no sign of relenting, and the international community shows no sign of coming to the rescue of the Syrian people. China and Russia have effectively blocked any chance of working through the United Nations. World opinion is horrified, but world leaders are paralyzed. No lack of diplomatic effort has been expended in trying to get Assad to back down; but these efforts have done nothing to stop the bloodshed.
Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of ChinaBy Ezra F. Vogel (Belknap Press, 876 pp., $39.95) Revolutionaries get all the attention, but reform is much harder. A reformer has to reshape a rigid structure without breaking it. Before Deng Xiaoping, only Kemal Atatürk in the twentieth century managed to do this. Others, like Nasser and the Shah of Iran, left key parts of the old system intact, or, like Gorbachev, destroyed the regime in trying to save it. The China that Deng inherited from Mao Zedong was just such a brittle system.
I commented long ago in The Spine about the courtship between fundamentalist Christianity and Israel. One of the early signs that it was meshing was the meeting between [Israeli Prime Minister Menahem] Begin and the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Bailey Smith, who had said that God doesn’t hear the prayers of a Jew. That’s a big theological rift already. But Begin tried to finesse the history.
I. The U.N. General Assembly has, by a vote of 137-12 (with 17 abstentions), condemned Bashar al-Assad and his relentless killing of the Syrian opposition which has gone on for nearly a year. The news was on page 12 of The New York Times which tells you just how significant the paper’s editors thought the resolution to be. The gifted reporter, Rick Gladstone, told us just about everything you would want to know.
The Egyptian government’s decision to investigate pro-democracy NGOs for criminal activity and the subsequent imposition of travel bans on democracy workers didn’t just ruin the plans of the six Americans now stuck there—it sparked a severe crisis in relations between Cairo and Washington.
I arrived in the Egyptian town of Edfu on a Friday in early February. The temple there, a wondrous reminder of the Egyptian pharaohs’ obsession with eternity and architectural monumentalism, was eerily quiet and empty of tourists. But the silence was more than filled by the blaring sound of the Friday sermon, broadcast over loudspeakers at unavoidably high volume.
A New Republic blogger last week pronounced the president’s foreign policy record “hawkish.” This is especially odd, given Barack Obama’s ongoing attempt at persuading himself and the world that he had altered the model of international relations so that it now worked by talk and suasion. This is probably how his enthusiasts—and young enthusiasts, especially—still experience him. Illusions die hard. But even Obama can no longer be wholly persuaded by this, his own fantasy.
This is a contribution to ‘What Should the United States Do About Syria?: A TNR Symposium.’ Let there be no doubt: With 6,000 dead and more than 50,000 displaced, the crisis in Syria has reached the point of no return, and the people of Syria are begging for help. We Syrians had hoped that the international community could cooperate in helping lift us from the daily terror we live in, but with the Security Council in stalemate, it is hard not to feel abandoned by it.