I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I was meeting with high-level Obama administration officials in Washington, D.C., two months after escaping Syria in February 2014, and I had just described to them all the horrors I had seen: the torture of protesters, the rape of women, the bombardment of civilians, the barrel bombs, the massacres, the sieges, the starvation, and the gassing of hundreds of innocents with sarin in August 2013. I had recounted how I barely survived those sarin attacks and the siege of my hometown, Moadamiya, near Damascus; and how, by some miracle, I managed to trick the regime into letting me leave Syria.
Now, I was asking the officials to take simple steps, to do something, anything, that would protect the millions of civilians I had left behind from further starvation and slaughter. But as I pressed these officials for answers, their replies grew increasingly divorced from the Syrian conflict:
Why couldn’t there be military action to protect civilians? The reply: The U.S. is helping Syrians through humanitarian and nonlethal means. Me: Thanks for your generosity, but can Band-Aids take down a fighter jet as it bombs civilians? Them: President Bashar Assad’s air-defense systems are too strong for a no-fly zone. Me: Then how does Israel keep bombing the regime? Them: The U.S. wants to avoid a military solution. We also need to stabilize the whole region. Me: Assad’s barrel bombs and starvation sieges are driving extremism, I’ve seen it with my own eyes—you call that stabilizing the region?
In this meeting and in numerous other meetings with people familiar with Mr. Obama’s personal thinking—at the State Department, with Democrats in Congress, at the White House—we would eventually reach a moment of honesty when someone would say, in effect: President Obama does not wish to upset the Iranians.