Syria is descending deeper and deeper into a hell of torture and murder, ethnic cleansing, and the destruction of historic monuments. The future is a choice of evils: Bashar Assad may be left a pawn of Iran’s, president of a ravaged country and a nonexistent state; Syria might fragment; and neighboring countries could be dragged into a wider regional war. Greeted as the awakening of freedom from cruel regimes, the so-called Arab Spring comes down to crimes against humanity and the threatened disintegration of the Arab state system.
Diplomatic initiatives from parties supposedly interested in peacemaking — the Arab League, NATO, the European Union, the United Nations — have faded into posturing and impotence. The United States is conspicuous by its absence. President Obama seems to have taken to heart the advice of Talleyrand, admittedly one of the grand masters of foreign policy, above all to show no zeal. Pained silence would have been more honest than pretty but unfounded abstractions about red lines and game-changing moves.