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Annan and On and On
James Traub
Foreign Policy
3 August 2012
 
James Traub is a fellow of the Center on International Cooperation and the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.
 
Kofi Annan has finally, belatedly, admitted that his peace mission to Syria has failed. And since the international community has been unable to agree on any other effort to stop the killing in Syria, there's no prospect of anything happening in Syria -- save more bloodshed, more ethnic fragmentation, and the blurring of all moral distinctions between the two sides, as the rebels, their ranks swelled by foreign and home-grown jihadists, carry out atrocities of their own, such as the recent executions in Aleppo. (…)
 
(…)Peace-brokering diplomacy without the threat of meaningful consequences, whether in the Balkans or Sudan or Syria, is a futile act. (…)
 
The failure is thus in the nature of things, that is, in the tragic nature of statecraft, in the limits of outside powers to stop evil. But what then? The United States is a signatory, as are all other states, to the doctrine of "the responsibility to protect," which stipulates that states have an affirmative obligation to prevent and halt atrocities both within their borders and elsewhere. Obama has very publicly committed himself to R2P, as the doctrine is known. How can you accept the tragic limitations of statecraft when you have embraced so sweeping a doctrine? In repudiating the cynicism of indifference, has he chosen instead the hypocrisy of fine words and no action?
 
(…) There can be no moral obligation to act when action might magnify the evil one seeks to end. And yet to accept that states have moral obligations beyond their borders is to accept the need to act effectively, rather than, for example, to say that the responsibility lies with the neighbors. If something won't work, you try something else.
 
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