Peter Beinart gets this half-right:
I understand the impulse for America to “do something” in Syria. I grasp the logic behind funding some of the militias fighting Bashar Assad, even if America’s history of funding militias may be propelling Afghanistan and Iraq toward civil war. But there’s something disgraceful about our tendency to wax moralistic about preventing suffering in countries in which we have not yet intervened while we brazenly ignore the suffering we have helped cause in the countries in which we have.
Beinart is right that this sort of moralizing is disgraceful, but it isn’t “our tendency.” It’s the tendency of a relatively small number of pundits and politicians that are responsible for driving foreign policy debates in this direction. Of course, it is easier for this tendency to flourish when the people demanding that the U.S. “do something” are able to keep the debate in vague terms of inaction vs. action, abdication vs. leadership, and so on. Honestly, I don’t understand the impulse for America to “do something” in Syria when “doing something” is a euphemism for killing people in Syria or providing weapons with which more Syrians will be killed. If one wants to ensure that even more Syrians not aligned with the opposition end up dead or expelled from their homes, there is a certain logic to providing funds and weapons to anti-regime forces. It just happens to be an appalling, indefensible logic. Arming insurgents will very likely intensify the conflict, it will facilitate attacks on civilians on the “wrong” side, and it will prolong the conflict while increasing the number of those killed and displaced. The truly disgraceful thing about interventionist moralizing over these conflicts is that the moralizing rhetoric is just a goad to get the U.S. into the conflict as a participant or as a patron, and as a result it will often inflict more destruction and suffering than would have occurred otherwise.