Why Always Us?

Or, perhaps, the question should be:  why always U.S.?

President Obama apparently is weighing some kind of military strike against Syria in response to its government apparent use of chemical weapons against its own citizens.  As described in the New York Times, the use of military force would be limited, designed to cripple the Assad dictatorship’s ability to use chemical weapons but not effecting “regime change.”

It seems like an effort to thread the eye of a needle with an awfully blunt instrument — but the issue I’m raising is more fundamental.  I’m as appalled as any civilized person about the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons, but . . . can’t someone else do something about it?  Syria isn’t our neighbor.  We don’t share any kind of common cultural or linguistic heritage with Syria.  Syria doesn’t have any great economic or geopolitical significance so far as I can determine.  As a result, when it comes to Syria, our interests appear to be no greater than those of those of any other country, and much less than some.

So, when the Syrian government commits an atrocity, why do heads swivel in our direction — as they always seem to do?  And, why are American Presidents eager to spend our treasure and risk the lives of our soldiers when that happens?  Is it because they like being viewed as world leaders?  Forgive me, but I would rather have a President whose focus is exclusively on our interests, assessed with a cold and calculating eye.  In this case, what exactly would a Syrian adventure of the kind described by the New York Times accomplish for the United States?  Even if successful, it would still leave the Assad government capable of slaughtering its people — only with conventional weapons, rather than chemical ones.  And, of course, any involvement risks the possibility that some wild-eyed fanatics in the Arab world will swear out a jihad against the Great Satan because it, again, has intervened in the world’s most volatile region.

There is no reason why the United States should be involved in punishing Syria for its gross moral transgressions.  The Arab League, or Turkey, or the United Nations, or some other country that shares a border or a language or some other cultural element with Syria should assume the lead.  Our resources are not infinite, and it’s time we stopped acting like they were.

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Sorry, Syria

The news from Syria is all bad.  The various UN ceasefire proposals and peace plans have been abject failures — predictably.  And while diplomats talk, and talk, and talk, the Syrian people are getting slaughtered by their own government in a series of bloody massacres.  The latest incident came last night, when Syrians in the town of Deraa were shelled, apparently by government forces, even as UN observers try to investigate an earlier atrocity.

The Syrian situation is one of those instances that reveal the remarkably cold-blooded nature of foreign policy in the modern world.  Unfortunately for the Syrians, their dusty country is one of the few places in the Middle East that lacks oil reserves.  Nor is it a place that has served as the launching ground for successful terrorist attacks.  As a result, for all the hand-wringing, neither Europe, nor the United States, nor any other country has sufficient skin in the game to do anything to depose the evil Assad regime and stop the awful civilian carnage in Syria.  And any effort to take military action under the umbrella of the UN inevitably will be blocked by the Russians and the Chinese, who aren’t fans of international interventions, anyway.

Compare events in Syria to what happened in Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan.  Life in Syria is as violent and repressive as it was in any of those countries before regime change was imposed at the point of a sword.  The difference is that the United States and other governments viewed those other countries as involving crucial geopolitical interests and had the ability, through their own resources and the NATO construct, to take affirmative steps to address those interests.  The Syrian situation doesn’t invoke such crucial interests, and therefore the Syrian people will continue to suffer and die.

I’m not advocating that America act unilaterally for humanitarian reasons; our human, financial, and military resources are finite, and I don’t think we can or should serve as the world’s policeman whenever tyrants begin campaigns of indiscriminate killing in distant lands.  I’m just noting that the sad futility of the Syrian “peace plans” and escalating rhetoric of the diplomats exposes the ultimate hollowness of most multi-national organizations, like the UN and the Arab League.  Why aren’t Syria’s oil-rich Middle Eastern neighbors taking steps to stop the bloodshed in their own backyard?  The Arab League should be ashamed.