Those clamoring for American intervention in Syria — I should say, even more American intervention in Syria — have a lock on two influential drivers of conservative opinion, Fox News and the Wall Street Journal’s editorial pages. They are also bedfellows on this issue with our Muslim Brotherhood–enthralled president, even if Mr. Obama’s skittishness about going all in has them a bit testy.
All of this puts the media wind at their backs. Repeated often enough and reported uncritically enough, the interventionists’ shallow story has thus become the narrative. And so we have: The Vacuum.
The Vacuum theme goes like this: The Middle East may be in flux, but our threat environment remains frozen in time — a Nineties warp in which Iran, singularly, is the root of all evil. In Syria now, we have a golden opportunity to hand the mullahs a crushing defeat. All we need to do is commit to toppling their client, Bashar al-Assad. Media spin thus suggests that Assad’s minority Alawite regime is responsible for each of the 70,000 killings and half a million displacements that Syrians have endured since the civil war began — as if the Sunni majority, led by the local Brotherhood affiliate with al-Qaeda as the point of its spear, were not carrying out reciprocal mass murders and an anti-Christian pogrom.
Alas, misadventures in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya have left the Obama administration gun-shy about leaping with both feet into another Muslim mess. The president thus prefers to “lead from behind” the Sunni supremacist governments of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. This failure of American will has created The Vacuum: a leadership lacuna in the anti-Assad opposition. Into this purported breach, Islamic supremacists — seemingly out of thin air — have rushed in to hijack the forward march of freedom.
As a result, the narrative continues, untold legions of Muslim moderates, secular democrats, and religious minorities who would otherwise be charting Syria’s democratic destiny are being elbowed aside. Even worse, by failing to intervene forcefully — meaning, to fuel the jihad with high-tech combat weapons and an aerial campaign to soften up Assad’s remaining defenses — the administration is frittering away the opportunity to strike up pragmatic alliances with the Vaccum-filling Islamists. Sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought — eager to help the Brotherhood, but too concerned about arms falling into terrorist hands — Obama is forfeiting our chance to influence the outcome.
Right. I mean, look at how ably our decade of heavy investment has steered Iraq and Afghanistan in a pro-American direction. And behold how they love us in Benghazi!
Syria hawks counter such scoffs by putting on their best Paul Krugman: The “freedom” stimulus was not a harebrained idea, it just wasn’t big enough. Put aside the fortune expended and the thousands of American lives sacrificed. It is not the nature of the Middle East but a void of American leadership that has the region waving al-Qaeda’s black flags. The Vacuum turns out to be the best all-purpose rationalization of failure since Barack Obama discovered George W. Bush.
Baghdad, you are to understand, would look like Bayonne right now if only American troops hadn’t skipped town, creating The Vacuum that ceded the place to, er . . . Iraqis.
The Vacuum explains the Benghazi debacle, too. Some amnesia is required: You are not supposed to remember that Eastern Libya has for decades been a hotbed of rabidly anti-American jihadists. History goes back only as far as 2011, when Obama and the interventionists decided Qaddafi — their erstwhile ally — had to go. Presto, Benghazi’s Islamic-supremacist battalions were suddenly our guys, the heroic, freedom-fighting “rebels” — and let’s not dwell on the droves of them that had raced to Iraq for the terror war against our troops.