Syria is Where “Responsibility to Protect” Goes to Die

Western powers won’t want to antagonize China and Russia by intervening in Syria despite their vetoes.

Poor Susan Rice was exasperated last week. The American ambassador to the United Nations saw the first step toward international intervention in Syria go up in smoke over the weekend when China and Russia blocked a Security Council resolution that would have urged President Bashar al-Assad to resign.

The two veto-wielding powers were quick to point out that Arab states and NATO last year exceeded their United Nations mandate to protect civilians in wartorn Libya by putting special forces on the ground and providing air cover for the rebels who were thus able to tear down the tyranny of Muammar Gaddafi.

Even if Western powers aren’t looking for another military intervention, they would like to see Assad go. Because it’s in the American and European interest to topple his regime, the “responsibility to protect” the Syrian demonstrators is invoked to legitimize international action.

The Chinese and the Russians are suspicious. As they see it, the West only raises humanitarian concerns when it suits its interests to be perfectly quiet about human rights abuses in allied Arab monarchies like Saudi Arabia.

The reality, as the conservative Heritage Foundation’s James Carafano put on RT’s Crosstalk Friday, is that “humanitarian interventions are really no different from any other foreign policy decision.” The responsibility to protect doctrine “can be used to go after your enemies,” he said and is “pretty vacuous and empty.” Because it is so ill defined, he predicted that it would end up on “the ash heap of history” soon.

On the same program, I agreed and said the experience in Syria proved that “strategic interests always trump humanitarian missions.” Even if there’s a sincere concern for the fate of the Syrian people in the West, “it would be a huge mistake to antagonize China and Russia” by intervening despite their vetoes. There are more important things in the world than the uprising in Syria. Europe and the United States want China’s help in dismantling North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and both their help in preventing Iran from developing the same.

True believers of responsibility to protect won’t have any of this. As far as they’re concerned, Western interests needn’t be at stake to justify an intervention.

In Libya, both the American defense secretary and military chief bluntly admitted last year that there weren’t vital interests at stake for the United States. It was an ideological experiment. China and Russia don’t want it to happen again and as long as they have an influence in world affairs, their concerns must be reckoned with as well.