Does Moral Indignation Help Syria?

The evacuation of Aleppo proceeds with starts and stops but the war in Syria goes on. Unless Russia and Iran leverage Syria's Assad into stopping now, there will be more mayhem, probably in the province of Ibid, where many of the evacuees, especially jihadis, are going. Inevitably there will be calls for the U.S. to do more. I have argued in recent columns that Obama has been right to stand down in Syria. 

In the current issue of Commonweal (January 6), reader Richard Vale has a letter to the editor contesting my view. Mr. Vale cites a PBS Frontline program as his source. His is a common view....perhaps the view of most Americans. It reflects the reporting of the MSM, including the New York Times and PBS. But there are alternative views in the multiplicity of blogs and internet news sources. Paul Pillar, who writes in the National Interest and is included on LobeLog, often expresses such alternative views. LobeLog has his response to a piece from Michael Kimmelman in the Times lamenting that the West looks at photos of suffering Syrian children and then fails to act. Pillar brings his usual thoughtfulness to Kimmelman's apparent subject: the role of moral indignation in policymaking.

Pillar:  "Once a situation achieves the special status of being the focus of elevated indignation and emoting, the phenomenon of concentrated attention and moralizing becomes self-reinforcing. Repeated references to the situation as inhumane and a moral litmus test stimulate further similar references. Once this process is underway, it discourages sound discussion of policy options...."  Worth a read.

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages.

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