“Every country is different, and every situation is different.” That is the kind of deep foreign policy mystery some of us might not have puzzled out on our own but for the little tutorial delivered by the president’s press secretary this afternoon on the mowing down of demonstrators across Syria, and the difference between Bashar al-Assad’s bloody mercy and that of Muammar Qaddafi. We could still be swimming like protozoa in the primordial soup out of which Mr. Obama fished us upon ascending to office in 2009; thanks to today’s instructional offering, though—and others very much like it over the long months—we are all kitted out for fathoming many of the world’s riddles, including the delicacy with which he and his secretary of state have greeted the ongoing slaughter, in Syria as elsewhere.
Q: On Syria—do you have anything to say on Syria today? Lots of violence and—
MR. CARNEY: As we have [said] consistently throughout this period, we deplore the use of violence and we’re very concerned about what we’ve—the reports we’ve seen from Syria. We are monitoring it very closely; call on the Syrian government to cease and desist from the use of violence against peaceful protestors; call on all sides to cease and desist from the use of violence; and also call on the Syrian government to follow through on its promises and take action towards the kind of concrete reform that they promised.
Q: Jay, even though the U.S. and other countries keep condemning what’s happening in Syria, the situation there just gets worse. So is there any discussion in the administration about taking any further action, since the situation there is starting to look like it was in Libya when the U.S. took action?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I mean, I have no updates on that, except to say that every country is different and every situation is different. And the circumstances that presented themselves in Libya were actually quite unique to Libya in terms of the imminent assault on a town with a sizeable population which Muammar Qaddafi had promised to show no mercy; the opportunity to prevent that kind of slaughter of civilians; the unified international consensus that action should be taken that was not just Western but included Arab League and other support; the request from the opposition there for the kind of assistance that was provided through—and has been provided through U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973. . . . So those circumstances were quite unique.
Really? Muammar Qaddafi “promised to show no mercy”; Bashar al-Assad is showing no mercy. Where is the outraged call for him to go? A despot in a dress may be more than our president can take. If you’re a pants-wearing dictator, though, you apparently pass muster.
These champions of pusillanimity would be dismissible enough—the Adlai Stevensons or Michael Dukakises of our day—if they were at the Institute for New Economic Thinking or the UN or the U. S. Institute of Peace, and we were safely out of their way. But they’re in office, they’ve spent this amazing gift from the American people attempting to deconstruct our musculature and armature, and their awful display of timorousness here is the actual expression of U.S. foreign policy as it is now. What’s more, their refusal to distinguish between oppressor and oppressed—“we . . . call on all sides to cease and desist from the use of violence”—shames us in the world and endangers us.
This is worse than Jimmy Carter at his presidential worst, and as bad as ever he has become.