Last Friday the White House, responding to the bodies of protesters piling up in Syria, announced sanctions against three government officials, including a brother and a cousin of President Bashir Assad, who will no longer be able to access whatever property they may own in the United States. Take that, tyrants! New York Times reporter Mark Landler notes that President Obama's response to Assad's violent suppression of dissent is rather different from his response to Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi's violent suppression of dissent, despite some obvious parallels:
A brutal Arab dictator with a long history of enmity toward the United States turns tanks and troops against his own people, killing hundreds of protesters. His country threatens to split along sectarian lines, with the violence potentially spilling over to its neighbors, some of whom are close allies of Washington.
If there was a humanitarian justification for waging war against Libya, why is Obama's response so restrained in the case of Syria, where he has not even called for regime change, let alone sent in the warplanes? "Syria is important in a way that Libya is not," explains Steven A. Cook, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. "There is no central U.S. interest engaged in Libya." This argument for intervening in Libya but not Syria, you may recall, used to be the argument against intervening in Libya.
To be fair, Cook means that the unintended consequences of forcing out Assad could be more serious than the unintended consequences of forcing out Qaddafi, given the possible implications for Israel, Lebanon, and Iraq. But why risk any unintended consequences when U.S. security is not at stake?