Barack Obama made speeches. And the Nobel committee swooned.
Perhaps it's now time for the president to actually earn his great honor. As so often happens in this volatile world, he doesn't have to look far for his opportunity. Syria is in flames. Children are being massacred while Russia stands tall in defense of a second-generation tyrant named Assad. And instead of facing down the Russians, as Hillary Clinton's husband did in one of his finest moments, Hillary's current boss is vowing to "cooperate" with Vladimir Putin, an act that human-rights scholar Lori Handrahan correctly notes "legitimizes crimes against humanity by the Syrian state, supported by Russia."
There are cautious isolationists in this country who have legitimate concerns about any sort of intervention, military or diplomatic. They're consistent, criticizing George Bush for his forays into Iraq and Afghanistan and telling Obama to stay put and let the United Nations confront this with its usual paralysis. While I disagree with them, since I believe the United States is the only nation that has the legitimacy and power to stop the destruction in Syria, I respect their consistency.
What I can't stomach are partisan flunkies who turn Obama's own presidential paralysis into some grand diplomatic stand, arguing that discretion is the better part of valor when they know that it's simply a way to avoid conflict with our so-called allies. Anyone who has eyes knows what is happening in Syria. It is the same thing that happened in Armenia at the turn of the century, when Turkey engaged in the first organized genocide of modern times. It's the same thing that happened at Auschwitz and Dachau. It's the same thing that happened in Cambodia's Killing Fields, in Rwanda, at Srebrenica. And while the scale is different, it's the same thing that happened in Iran a few short years ago, when students were gunned down in the streets for daring to protest.
The world is indeed a dangerous place, and diplomacy is necessary. We can't always send in the Marines, particularly after what happened in Mogadishu; the lives of our own citizens are paramount, as are relations with cautious and misguided allies. But while we here debate whether a penalty is a tax and why we can't force people to eat broccoli, Syrians are dying to the tune of 1,000 a month. This is not happening behind some Iron Curtain where the dead are anonymous. This is on our watch, at a time when we are empowered by both international law and fundamental morality to take action. Pursuant to a principle known as "responsibility to protect" formulated in the wake of Kosovo, foreign intervention is justified where there is wide-scale loss of life or ethnic cleansing. Both are happening in Syria. It is this country's responsibility to force the international community to act.
The fact that our president seems to be biding his time might be understandable from a policy perspective during an election year, but it fails every other test the United States sets for itself. Standing on the sidelines while innocents are being massacred (even if those sidelines involve diplomatic negotiations behind closed doors) is not unprecedented, but it flies in the face of our national character and obligations. In fact, we didn't stand on the sidelines in Libya, a conflict that involved far fewer deaths.
This week we celebrated freedom from tyranny. This desire for liberation is not uniquely American, even though we created the most enduring template for the principle. Human dignity is inextricably tied to human autonomy, and while some are able to forge their own destinies like our courageous Founding Fathers, others are held hostage to circumstance.
I believe that it's time for the United States to listen to these words and act on behalf of those who cannot act for themselves:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Earn that peace prize, Mr. President.
Christine Flowers is a lawyer. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org and read her blog at philly.com/FlowersShow.