The mounting massacres and refugee flows are rendering the Obama administration’s stubborn stance of passivity on Syria unsustainable. As soon as Thursday, the Turkish government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a member of NATO, may ask the U.N. Security Council to authorize a safe zone for refugees inside Syria. While that is likely to be resisted by Russia, the United States would be foolish to continue standing by while allies such as Turkey and Jordan are swamped, and possibly destabilized, by Syrian refugees. Even more reprehensible is refusing to intervene while a state systematically murders its own citizens.
Mr. Obama has said that that “preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States of America.” In a speech at the Holocaust Museum in April, he said that “we need to be doing everything we can to prevent and respond to these kinds of atrocities — because national sovereignty is never a license to slaughter your people.” Yet now, as atrocity after atrocity is recorded in Syria, he rejects proposals by aides and allies for even limited and humanitarian intervention. Administration officials reportedly have discussed options for a safe zone, but the president has repeatedly sided with those favoring inaction.
Last week President Obama did say that his “calculus” about “military engagement” would change if the regime began using or deploying its stocks of chemical weapons. But as the Syrian blogger Ammar Abdulhamid has written, the drawing of that red line may have emboldened the regime to conclude that anything short of using weapons of mass destruction will be tolerated by Washington.
Mr. Abdulhamid wonders “why slaughter would be deemed tolerable if it happened one way and not another.” It’s a good question — and one for which the administration’s morally bankrupt policy has no answer.