A recent lead editorial in the Washington Post is one of those pieces of writing where every sentence may well be true, but the overall result is dangerously misleading. The subject is Syria, where the Post blasts the Obama administration for its handling of the ongoing crisis.
The Post contends that Washington’s approach, working through the UN and the “Annan plan,” has been a failure. It argues that continued inaction “will allow Mr. Assad to go on killing indefinitely.” It also notes that the longer the conflict goes on unresolved, the greater the risk will be of other developments more directly threatening to U.S. interests. These include extremist groups such as al-Qaeda taking advantage of the chaos and sectarian war spreading across Syria’s borders to countries like Iraq and Turkey.
These critiques are all fair. But the editorial does not advance a single policy prescription for what the United States ought to do instead. Of course, as many have noted before, there are no good options for what to do about Syria now. Should Washington arm the Syrian rebels? What if that only leads to a prolonged and intensified civil war? Should the United States then send in troops to remove Assad? The Post doesn’t openly suggest any of these steps, but it nonetheless bashes President Obama as if there is some magical solution out there that he’s simply too afraid to advocate for.
Indeed, this piece is marked by “the emotional urge to ‘do something’ in the face of obvious human suffering and bloodshed,” as Paul Pillar wrote here at TNI. While understandable, Pillar continues, “this tendency needs to be resisted because some possible measures that may help to satisfy this urge might only lead to different scenarios in which the humanitarian situation would be even worse.” No doubt there are risks to inaction, and the Post lays those risks out well. But its implicit presumption that any other course would automatically be better is what makes this editorial such an outright howler.