As the conflict in Syria has raged and spilled over its borders, I have been skeptical that there is an American military solution to the complex political and religious problems at the heart of the crisis. I remain skeptical, and am glad that the Obama administration has been reluctant to engage in a large-scale humanitarian intervention.
But I am saddened that it has not engaged in large-scale humanitarian action. The distinction is important.
For most of the last 75 years, the United States has been the world's humanitarian. It has provided the most foreign aid and taken in the most refugees. For decades, America took in about 50 percent of the total number of those who were resettled from foreign lands.
Not anymore. American aid in the Syrian crisis has been matched by the European Union, and neither is doing enough.
As for refugees, the United States has become an international embarrassment. It has pledged to take in 10,000 Syrians but last year accepted just 2,192 and is struggling to take in more, despite the fact that, thanks to its distance from the conflict, it can be selective. Meanwhile, Canada, with a population about a tenth of America's, has already resettled 25,000 Syrians.
Germany has faced hundreds of thousands of refugees seeking asylum and has pledged to resettle more than 40,000.
But the world's richest countries are being put to shame by some of the poorest. Lebanon now has more than 1 million registered refugees, making up a quarter of the country's population.
Jordan is not far behind with about 650,000. And Turkey houses nearly 3 million. These countries need aid on an entirely different scale than they are receiving currently.
In addition, Washington has traditionally taken the lead in setting the agenda for humanitarian action, corralling other countries to make donations, accept refugees and provide forces for peacekeeping operations. The administration is now acting on some of these fronts, but it is still not commensurate with the enormity of the suffering.
Syria is a human tragedy of epic proportions. An estimated 400,000 people have died, 6.5 million have been internally displaced, and nearly 5 million have fled the country. Some will say that this is precisely the reason we should send in more troops, bomb more targets, and set up safe zones in the country.
But that assumes that we have a local partner to work with and, most crucially, that there is some political order we could help establish that would be effective and legitimate in the eyes of the Syrians. Without those ingredients, foreign military intervention turns into chaos and colonial occupation.
But what Washington can do is try to respond to the crisis with a set of humanitarian efforts that are equal to the scale of the tragedy. President Obama should address the American public and describe the human suffering, remind us of our nation's best traditions, and urge that Congress support him in providing more aid, receiving more refugees and leading in greater collaborative efforts internationally.
He should appoint George W. Bush and Bill Clinton the country's special ambassadors for humanitarian action on Syria.
Donald Trump will criticize him. Republicans will raise the specter of terrorism. But they are wrong and he should say so. Americans have always been wary of taking in refugees. Large majorities opposed taking in Germans (Jews) in the 1930s and even immediately following World War II after we had learned about the Holocaust.
Fifty-five percent opposed taking in Hungarians after the Soviet invasion in 1956, and 57 percent from accepting the "boat people" of Indochina after the fall of Saigon in 1975. But America's leaders insisted, and all these groups were accepted, assimilated, and have become vital parts of American society.
Obama is not running for re-election. He has been bold in other areas, proposing policies that he knows Congress will reject in the hope of changing the conversation. Why not on the single greatest source of human suffering in the world right now?
The problem is not simply one that affects the political right or the Obama administration. Where is Bernie Sanders, who is very concerned about Americans who can't pay for college but seems largely indifferent to Syrians who can't manage to stay alive?
Where are the world's rock stars, who once sang "We Are the World" and staged a Live Aid concert to fight poverty in Africa? Millions of Syrian men, women and children are fleeing their homes, living in squalor and losing their lives. Where are all of us?
Fareed Zakaria hosts CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS," and makes regular appearances on shows such as ABC's "This Week" and NBC's "Meet The Press." He has been an editor at large Time magazine since 2010, and spent 10 years overseeing Newsweek's foreign editions. He is a Washington Post (and internationally syndicated) columnist. He is author of: "The Post-American World." For more of Fareed Zakaria's reports, Go Here Now.