A Time for Action in the Middle East

LONDON – The announcement, following the use of chemical weapons in Syria, of an emergency summit in Jordan this week of military leaders from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar is a welcome development. Western policy is at a crossroads: commentary or action; shaping events or reacting to them.

After the long and painful campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, I understand every impulse to stay clear of the turmoil, to watch but not to intervene, to ratchet up language but not to engage in the hard, even harsh business of changing reality on the ground. But we have to understand the consequences of wringing our hands instead of putting them to work.

People wince at the thought of intervention. But contemplate the future consequences of inaction and shudder: Syria, mired in the carnage between the brutality of Bashar al-Assad and various affiliates of Al Qaeda, a breeding ground of extremism infinitely more dangerous than Afghanistan in the 1990’s; Egypt in chaos, with the West, however unfairly, looking as if it is giving succor to those who would turn it into a Sunni version of Iran; and Iran itself, despite its new president, still a theocratic dictatorship, with a nuclear bomb. The West would appear confused, its allies would be dismayed, and its enemies would be emboldened. This is a nightmare scenario, but it is not far-fetched.

Start with Egypt. To many in the West, it is clear that the Egyptian military has removed a democratically elected government and is now repressing a legitimate political party, killing its supporters and imprisoning its leaders. So we are on a steady track toward ostracizing the new government. In doing so, we think that we are upholding our values. I completely understand this view. But to embrace it would be a grave strategic error.