This is the time of year when most of us make resolutions (which, by now, may already be broken) and ponder what the year ahead holds. Usually such thoughts are peppered with irrational optimism and seemingly boundless hope that the coming year will be better than the last.

But this year seems different. Two events in particular have us worried.

First, of course, is the whole "fiscal cliff" fiasco that was created by inaction and intransigence in a dysfunctional Congress. It never should have happened and it has yet to be truly fixed. We have expressed our thoughts about that before and likely will again.

The second circumstance, which has received far less attention than it deserves, is the situation in Syria in general and the United States' response to it in particular.

A father (R) reacts after the death of two of his children, whom activists said were killed by shelling by forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar
A father (R) reacts after the death of two of his children, whom activists said were killed by shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, at al-Ansari area in Aleppo January 3, 2013. REUTERS/Muzaffar Salman

The Obama administration's apparent inability to lead on this issue has created a void that calls to mind the disaster in Rwanda and that has left our close allies scratching their heads. Clearly, Russia and China are the power brokers and Iran is a substantial beneficiary of that.

As was the case with Egypt and Libya, the uprising by the people of Syria seems to be a world away from most Americans who are only vaguely aware of what is going on "over there." Just another Arab Spring event in a part of the world that is always fighting and it doesn't really affect us. Right?

Uh, no. We believe that is faulty reasoning based on ignorance of the facts and it is extremely dangerous.


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If left to its own devices, Syria is going to explode and that explosion is going to be messy.

As we have said repeatedly, Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad must leave office through whatever means necessary. He is a ruthless killer who will do anything to cling to power. In our view, he has already committed substantial war crimes against his own people.

But the process by which he is replaced must be orderly and the U.S. has a substantial role to play in facilitating that outcome. The alternative to doing so is chaos.

What started as a peaceful uprising is devolving into a likely bloodbath that could well destabilize the entire Middle East as well as provide a fertile new base of operations for al-Qaida. As unacceptable as that is, it is not the worst part. It also could lead to the transfer or even the actual use of chemical weapons.

The Obama administration has spent the past year operating under the faint hope that Russia would support a plan to negotiate a settlement to remove Assad from office. But that is unlikely as long as the U.S. stands on the sidelines and allows al-Qaida splinter groups to help the rebel forces.

The horrors of Rwanda caused the U.N. to adopt the "responsibility to protect" doctrine, which states that the international community must do all it can to stop crimes against humanity. That policy was supported by many in the Obama administration. It is now time to put their words into action.