Twenty years later, after so many promises of "never again," I watch Syria from Twitter and You Tube feeds in my office at American University. I feel like I am twenty-one years old in Bosnia again. Syria is breaking my heart because America, the moral authority of the international community, is breaking its promise of never again.
There was Bosnia but there was also Kosovo. Kosovo was a success. Kosovo restored my faith in the American enforced-international community's promised Responsibility to Protect (R2P). In Kosovo we said no. No, Serbia will not use the vast military resources of the state against unarmed citizens in Kosovo. No.
During Kosovo, I was in Washington, DC coordinating a coalition of human rights and humanitarian non-governmental organizations (NGO) desperately trying to get President Clinton's attention to give NATO the green light to protect Kosovo. President Clinton did give the go for NATO after Monica Lewinsky became public. We speculated to his motive but the truth is it didn't matter. Kosovo did not become Bosnia. America's military might and moral authority intervened, while Europe failed again in its own backyard.
Syria is your Kosovo, President Obama. Do you have the moral fortitude to give NATO the green light and do what freedom-loving people around the world have always looked to America to do? That is, to protect innocent lives and fundamental freedoms when no other nation has the courage or military might to do so.
Since, it seems, the Obama Administration has lost its moral compass, with every decision calculated by "re-election projections," if I were advising the president I would deliver a simple message: leaks on kill lists will not get you re-elected. American moral and military authority demonstrated by fulfilling our commitment to protect innocent citizens being slaughtered by a state gone insane; that will help your November numbers.
The Obama presidency depends, in no small part, on actions regarding Syria now. Will President Obama be the first American president to roll over and give America's moral authority and military power to Russia in Syria? Or will President Obama do what Americans elected him to do; wield decisive and powerful global leadership to protect innocent lives and American values?
What will it be President Obama, European-style failures to prevent ethnic cleansing or powerful American leadership on the global stage? American voters want to know. I want to know. Syrian children and mothers want to know. Now. November will be too late for you to make this decision.
President Obama, Syria is your Kosovo. What will you do?
Handrahan is a professor at American University’s School of International Service in Washington DC. She has spent more than twenty-years working in conflict and post-conflict areas on gender, security and humanitarian response.