Boston University professor Andrew Bacevich claims that whatever President Obama “does or doesn’t do about Syria won’t affect the larger trajectory of events,” and that “the fate of Syria per se doesn’t matter any more than the fate of Latvia or Laos” (“The US can’t remake Syria,” Op-ed, May 8). Bacevich posits that we are witnessing disintegration of the modern Middle East and reemergence of an assertive Islamic world, both products of European imperialists who created an altered landscape from the wreckage of World War I. He concludes that the indigenous multitudes will inexorably reshape the map.
Accepting this analysis leads to a false sense of security and a policy of inaction akin to believing that any attempt to influence the oceans’ continuous assault on shorelines is futile. Had the Netherlands adopted this mindset and not devised a plan to manage sea levels, it would now be underwater.
Although the complexities in the Syrian war are immense, and selecting a correct game-changing action appears as implausible as altering the tides, we are not free from acting to contain the conflagration. We know only too well that events distant from our borders, whether schemes hatched in the caves of Afghanistan or fallout from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant, can eventually reach our shores.
As a superpower with great resources at our disposal, we’ve already waited too long bearing witness to travesties before acting in everyone’s interest. Outcomes in Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur and the Holocaust are scars of our collective history. In Syria, now ground zero of the Middle East, we may not be able to complete tasks at hand, but neither are we free from beginning.