'Something Else Must Be Done!'
Matthew Boudway August 29, 2013 - 3:48pm
It's tempting to characterize the Obama administration's response to the latest reports of a chemical-weapons attack in Syria as a version of the old line from the British TV series Yes Minister: "Something must be done. This is something. Therefore it must be done."
Meanwhile, some of the administration's critics have suggested it would be better to do nothing than to do the little President Obama seems to have in mind: better, they say, either to go all in and get rid of Assad or to stay out of the conflict than to content oneself with firing a "shot across the bow."
What some of these critics do not quite say is whether they themselves believe we should do more than what the president is considering or less. Are they actually in favor of getting rid of Assad even if this requires sending in troops? Or are they in favor of doing nothing—either because nothing we can do is likely to improve the situation (my own position) or because what happens in Damascus is not our concern.
These critics seem more interested in criticizing the president for lack of leadership than in proposing (and defending) a solution to the terrible problem we face in Syria. That problem is, they seem to say, above their pay grade—or beyond their special charism as pundits. It's the president's job to propose a solution, theirs to tell us why it's inadequate without commiting themselves to an alternative. They present their own ambivalence as evidence of an anguished awareness of complexity, the president's as evidence of his weakness. They dither and demand that the White House put an end to all the dithering.
They would do better to follow their own rule: If the president should do something truly effective or do nothing at all, then his critics should say something substantial or keep quiet. It's just too easy to complain that a policy falls between two stools when you're unwilling to take a seat yourself.
About the Author
Matthew Boudway is an associate editor of Commonweal.