“After Paris, Islamic State’s rise and Syria’s agony are shaking a weakened Europe – and the broader international system,” writes the Brookings Institution’s Robert Kagan in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. “Can the U.S. summon the will to respond?”
“What the U.S. now does or doesn’t do in Syria will affect the future stability of Europe, the strength of trans-Atlantic relations and therefore the well-being of the liberal world order. … Just as in the 1990s, when Europeans could address the crisis in the Balkans only with the U.S. playing the dominant military role, so again America will have to take the lead, provide the troops, supply the bulk of the air power and pull together those willing and able to join the effort.”
Such an effort would require:
- Establishing a safe zone in Syria to avoid having more refugees flood Europe and provide a place to return for those who have already fled. This would require not only U.S. airpower but also ground forces numbering up to 30,000.
- An additional 10,000 – 20,000 troops to uproot Islamic state from its havens in Syria and Iraq.
- An internationally negotiated transition in Syria ushering Mr. Assad from power and establishing a new provisional government to hold nationwide elections.
As Mr. Kagan reminds us the U.S. has taken lots of police actions in the last 70 years since the end of WWII: Korea, Vietnam, Panama, Kuwait, the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq being the big ones. “Not today. Americans remain paralyzed by Iraq, Republicans almost as much as Democrats, and Mr. Obama is both the political beneficiary and the living symbol of this paralysis. He may be the first president since the end of WWII who simply doesn’t care what happens to Europe.”
Mr. Kagan concludes, “Perhaps there are Europeans today wishing that the U.S. will not compound its error of commission in Iraq by making an equally unfortunate error of omission in Syria. They can certainly hope.”