PRESIDENT OBAMA’S June 13 decision to send light weapons and ammunition to Syrian rebels reflects a fundamental reality in the dialectic of American foreign policy. Within this administration and indeed throughout official Washington, humanitarian interventionism is the inevitable default position for policy makers and political insiders. There is no intellectual counterweight emanating from either party that poses a significant challenge to this powerful idea that America must act to salve the wounds of humanity wherever suffering is intense and prospects for a democratic emergence are even remotely promising.
This reality emerges in sharp relief when one attempts to find the reasoning behind the president’s Syria decision through a process of elimination. Perhaps, one might speculate, the president decided the time finally had come to turn the tide of war decisively in favor of the antigovernment insurgents and against the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. But, no, that can’t be the driver because nobody believes Obama’s modest flow of military assistance will have a significant impact on the Syrian civil war. It would be insulting to suggest the president believes such a thing.