Perhaps the most inane commentary on the Syrian crisis this week came from Thomas L. Friedman, the New York Times columnist. Friedman recognizes that he and the country are confronting a "wickedly complex" problem, but that's no excuse for his answer. He opposes the sort of missile attack that the President is presumably contemplating. He believes it will look weak if not backed by a more substantial commitment, while further infuriating the Arab/Muslim world. Fine. His own priority is "a policy response that simultaneously deters another Syrian poison gas attack [and] doesn’t embroil America in the Syrian civil war." He has more priorities than that, but let's pause here. It sounds like an excellent idea not to embroil the U.S. in the Syrian conflict. But moments later Friedman says the U.S. should arm "responsible rebels units, and they do exist, [that] can really hurt the Assad regime in a sustained way." Better still, arming the "responsible" rebels will put those worthies in a better position for the inevitable showdown with the presumably irresponsible rebels, i.e. the jihadists. Before you start thinking, Friedman assures us that doing this won't "embroil" us in the war because this way Americans won't be bombing the country.
You can think now.
Friedman seems to equate being "embroiled" with direct military intervention, if not with the proverbial boots on the ground. The dictionary definitions of "embroil," however, are "to involve in conflict or difficulties" and "to throw into disorder and confusion." Perhaps Friedman would like to debate the meaning of "involve," but to commit the country to arming not just the opposition to the Assad government but particular factions of the opposition looks like embroiling to me.
For what it's worth, Friedman also recommends that the international community somehow shame not just Bashar al-Assad but his entire family into some form of submission. Even futile efforts to bring the Assads and their underlings to justice via the International Criminal Court and other venues will serve to make them global pariahs, Friedman believes. Critics often accuse Friedman of living in some kind of fantasy world, but this is ridiculous. If other countries have material or monetary interests in supporting Syria today, as Russia clearly does, they're not going to sacrifice those interests to moral posturing, as Americans are so often tempted to do. Friedman's real hope seems to be to shame Russia (and the more neutral China) into renouncing Assad, but he can't even keep his story straight. He thinks that it should grow increasingly difficult for Russia to defend Assad's use of chemical weapons, but Russia isn't even trying to do that. As even superficial news readers should know by now, the Russians deny (or at least doubt) that the chemical weapons were deployed by Assad. So good luck with the shaming, Friedman -- but you ought to be ashamed for writing such a silly column.