The situation in Syria is tragic. But it is not America’s fault. The Assad regime is propped up by Russia and Iran. They carry the burden for what has happened to Syria. We would have to be nuts to take ownership of the problem. We have the legacy of Iraq hanging around our necks, which is bad enough. As bad as the situation is in Syria, at least it is a counterexample that demonstrates that Western imperialism is not uniquely evil.

On one level, this is a humanitarian crisis that is indistinguishable from an earthquake in Haiti or a tsunami in Sumatra. The United Nations is equipped to deal with it on that basis, assisting refugees and supplying aid. But it’s really much deeper than that and exposes fissures in the United Nations because there is no consensus on the Security Council on who should prevail in the civil war.

The United States is in the majority in thinking that the Assad regime has lost its legitimacy and must go, but there are no good guys out there to replace them. Probably the best that can be done is to facilitate a negotiated settlement that will protect the Alawites from reprisals if the Assad regime willingly abdicates its power. The Russians seem willing to participate in that effort, even as they continue to arm the regime with powerful weapons that will complicate efforts to intervene militarily.

The problem is that atrocities committed on all sides have hardened attitudes to the point that trust seems impossible. There is no magic fix. There is no likely result that is in our national interests. While we have to do we can on the humanitarian front, we also need to avoid becoming the owners of this problem.

Tragically, our national interests are best served by keeping an arm’s distance from the problem.

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