In this time of generalized peace, there have been six military campaigns of rescue, waged by the United States. All had taken place in an extended arc of Islamic geography – the first Gulf war of 1990-1991, the Bosnian campaign in 1995, the deliverance of Kosovo four years later, the destruction of the Taliban emirate in Kabul in 2001, the return to Iraq in 2003, and the toppling of Muammar Qaddafi’s despotism in 2011. The expedition against the Taliban aside, these wars of rescue were all hotly debated and argued over. There had been no rush to arms, no eagerness to take on imperial burdens abroad. If this be an American empire, reluctance has been one of its most discernable attributes. The sword was drawn more out of moral embarrassment than out of hankering for power.
We might have come to the end of that trail. Admittedly, I write as Syria unravels before our eyes – before the eyes of the steward of American power. By a mix of omission and commission, we have let Homs and Aleppo be, we have offered “non-lethal” aid in the most lethal of brutal wars. Our principal alibi was the uncertainty of what would unfold in that country were the despot to fall. In our commander-in-chief, in his “cosmopolitan” biography, in his lawyerly search for the fine line between just and unjust wars, we found adequate shelter from moral claims and responsibility. We have been here before, it must be conceded. Bosnia and Sarajevo were subjected to a veritable genocide, in the early 1990s. Two of our presidents, George Bush the elder, and Bill Clinton, had done their best to keep Bosnia at bay. Bill Clinton hid behind the phantom of “Balkan ghosts,” and ancient millennial feuds that no campaign of military rescue could ameliorate. But still, after the horror of Srebrenica, the American cavalry turned up. Richard Holbrooke, that “unquiet American,” took us into that conflict. Our sense of shame and guilt swayed the matter. We have been rid of that guilt. Click to read more.