The interventionist liberals of the Obama administration were a doleful bunch last week. It was the 20th anniversary of the siege of Sarajevo, when a Bosnian Serb army battered a city full of civilians with artillery while the United States issued ineffective cries of alarm. The comparison with this year's massacres in
Now, as then, the
But there's one big difference between the situation in Bosnia and that in Syria: This time, the clock is moving faster.
Although the Obama administration still hopes to avoid military intervention in Syria and is publicly backing a U.N. effort to broker a cease-fire this week, it has also stepped deliberately onto a slippery slope that is likely to lead to more intervention.
Unlike with Bosnia, where the United States and its allies initially sought to be neutral in a civil war, this time the U.S. has already chosen a side: It has called on Syria's dictator,
At a meeting in Istanbul last week, Secretary of State
And while the United States has decided not to provide weapons to the rebels, it isn't objecting to military funding or arms shipments from
In the short term, the administration says it still hopes former U.N. Secretary General
But I couldn't find anyone in the administration last week who believed that outcome was likely. For one thing, Assad believes he's winning; there's no reason for him to surrender now. The best hope seems to be that the government crackdown will become less lethal.
If the pace of the killing slows, that could buy time: time for economic sanctions to undermine the regime, time to cajole
If those measures fail to bring Assad down, the administration appears divided on how quickly to move toward military intervention.
But even the administration's humanitarian hawks don't think the moment for U.S. or
They'd like the U.N. Security Council to give its blessing first, or — if Russia and China continue to resist — at least NATO. They'd like the Syrian opposition to be better organized, with more assurance that military aid wouldn't fall into the hands of radical Islamists. They'd like Turkey to establish safe havens for the opposition along its border with Syria.
Eventually, though, the question of military intervention will change from if to when. The United States is already a little bit pregnant — already committed to helping Assad fall. It's merely looking for the least violent, lowest cost way to get there.
In Bosnia, it took more than three years for the United States to overcome its reservations and resort to military force. But that was a generation ago, when the idea of humanitarian intervention in a civil war was still novel.