Italy did more than any other country to save Jews from the Holocaust. (Franklin Roosevelt’s administration, by contrast, shamefully turned away Jewish refugees and refused to grant them asylum.)
Today, Italy is leading the civilized world again: this time by recalling its ambassador to Syria in protest of the long-running massacre being perpetrated by Bashar al-Assad and his henchmen
The question is: What will the United States do? Will President Obama continue to stand by and watch history happen, or will he act with dispatch and resolve to shape history?
Unfortunately, that’s an open question, and there’s little reason for optimism. Obama, after all, would much prefer to ignore the rest of the world so that he can focus on his big-government schemes here at home.
“America, it is time to focus on nation-building here at home,” he infamously said in his June 22 Afghan withdrawal speech. “Let us responsibly end these wars [in Iraq and Afghanistan] and reclaim the American dream …”
The problem for Obama is that peoples the world over also want to claim the American dream. They also want greater freedom and autonomy. And many of these people — in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Bahrain and now Syria— are willing to risk life and limb for the freedoms that we in the West take for granted.
These people look to the United States for help. Yet Obama and his administration have been coldly indifferent to their hopes and aspirations, which is why most Muslims — and especially the Muslim youth at the vanguard of the protests in Egypt’s Tahrir Square — look upon Obama and his team with disdain and distrust.
The outcome in Libya remains in doubt because of Obama’s conspicuous lack of leadership, his so-called “leading from behind.” And while there is some indication that the U.S. is aiding pro-democracy forces in Egypt, Obama has been reluctant to exercise the bully pulpit in defense of liberty.
But the president can ignore history for only so long. He can pretend not to hear the cries of oppressed peoples, but everyone knows better. Certainly, the Italians know better, which is why they have recalled their ambassador to Syria and urged other countries to follow suit.
What should the United States do? Elliott Abrams answers that question well in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal.
“We should end the American equivocation and say clearly that Assad must and will go,” Abrams writes. And our ambassador to Damascus, Robert Ford, “should be recalled now, to demonstrate a final break with the Assads, or he should be deployed repeatedly, as he was in Hama, to symbolize America’s support for the opposition.”
For the same reason the U.S. should be far more active in turning Assad and his closest supporters into international pariahs, using whatever multilateral bodies are available and employing far sharper presidential rhetoric than we have yet seen. Assad and his family should be offered one last chance to get out now before the wheels start turning that will make him an international outlaw forever.
Abrams also urges Obama to pressure the Syrian business community to turn against Assad. And he calls on the White House to engage the Syrian opposition in substantive talks and negotiations. This would strengthen the opposition’s commitment to civil peace, representative government and the protection of minorities.
“The more detailed these pledges are, and the more publicity and international support they get, the more good they will do inside Syria,” Abrams writes. Still, he adds, “the single event that would most help bring down the Assads would be the fall of Moammar Gadhafi in Libya.”
Abrams is right: There is no substitute for American leadership — rhetorical, diplomatic and military. To their undying credit, the Italians again are trying valiantly to rally the West into action. Theirs is the voice of the civilized world. If only Obama would listen.
John R. Guardiano is a writer and analyst in Arlington, Virginia. He writes and blogs for a variety of publications, including FrumForum, the American Spectator and The Daily Caller. Follow him at his personal blog, ResoluteCon.com, and on Twitter @JohnRGuardiano.