Given the bellicose language coming out of our normally milquetoast Secretary of State, the former junior senator from the state of Massachusetts, it seems quite possible that the United States will be involved in a foreign conflict with Syria as well as possibly involving its allies. Now, I am often unfairly maligned by people who are very anti-war as being an extremely warmongering sort of person, so I thought this particular situation would be a good opportunity to show the difference between our political class and our general populace concerning wars and rumors of wars, since it is far too common for militarism to be falsely ascribed to a political party (particularly to the Republicans) without the realization that most people on both sides of the political spectrum are united in their common distaste for expending American blood and treasure in foreign conflicts, but that the American political class has a great deal less reluctance to do so.
If someone is alert and aware about what has been going on in Syria over the past couple of years , one will be aware that Syria’s embattled ruler Bashir Assad and his military have done some very horrible things to their people in the midst of an ugly civil war (and all civil wars are ugly). This has included massacres of his own people as well as the reported use of chemical weapons. Almost everyone can agree that using chemical weapons is as immoral as twerking on public television (maybe more so), and no one believes that massacres are good things either, even if it is hard to understand why Assad would want to do either of those things knowing the global abhorrence of such matters and their minimal help in aiding him in a hearts and minds campaign with the Syrian people that he presumes to wish to rule. It is difficult to understand the rationality of such actions in light of the possible repercussions for his own rule and even his own life.
It is clear that our political class, regardless of which political party is in rule, is largely governed by interventionalists, who see any ruler disregarding international law as a sufficient justification for military action. The historical roots of this are somewhat complex, and too lengthy to discuss in any depth on this blog, but they appear to result from the rise of Progressivism in the early 1900’s, which resulted in the entrance of the United States into World War I. This initial move towards an intervationist political agenda was reversed by the massive (and fairly typical) isolationism of the 1920’s and 1930’s among the American population, even as America’s political class was deeply involved in international treaties and trying to link the American economy to help Germany deal with its postwar debt. World War II and the Cold War increased the divide between a populace that was basically isolationist (which appears to be the common thread between antiwar rioting in World War II and the growing distance of America’s constant foreign involvements in places like Grenada, Haiti, Serbia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Egypt, and many others). These foreign involvements have continued unabated regardless of which party is in power, despite the hostility of the American people by a large percentage to such conflits.
There is, it would appear, a fatal disconnect between the political class and the large body of citizenry as a whole. Every single president since at least Woodrow Wilson has been involved in entangling foreign adventures, whether that meant sending the US Marines to invade some country (like the Dominican Republic) or propping up some foreign government with massive aid in order to try to influence their behavior in other matters, regardless of their political affiliation. It would appear that there is some sort of assimilation process by which the vast majority of those who are elected to high office in the United States (or who are chosen as our diplomats) adopt the same sort of worldview that commits the blood and treasure of the United States behind the vague and amorphous concepts of international law even where no direct interest exists for the American people, and even when such involvement serves us no benefit whatsoever except for calumny, massive expenses, a decreased reputation in the world, and even more hostile regimes than the dictators that provoked us to conflict.
This disconnect has proven no less fatal for the political class (witness the death of the American Ambassador to Libya in Benghazi, Libya, after all) than it has for the ordinary men (and women) who have gone overseas as part of our military only to face death and injury for their troubles in dubious causes so that the United States can seek to prove its worth as the world’s policemen. To be sure, it is a horrible thing when oppression and genocide happen in the world, but it is not our job to serve as a referee to keep people from hurting each other. Part of the price of free will is the fact that we have to let other people exercise that free will and intervene only when it is necessary to preserve our own best interests or to defend ourselves from the aggression of others. Those of us who demand freedom for ourselves can be no less fierce about defending the freedom of other people, and also pointing out that is a people is unhappy with their rulers, they have the responsibility to get rid of those rulers themselves, or to make such alliances as they can with others who ought to be looking out for their own interests in helping their cause.
Barely more than two centuries ago, the United States fought for its freedom against an imperial power that had sought to rule over it despotically (namely, Great Britain). Through its own military strength, notably in battles like Trenton and Princeton and (especially) Saratoga, our ancestors showed that they had a viable enough independence movement to gain support from France and Spain and the Netherlands and others. These nations did not help the United States out of the goodness of their hearts, but rather out of their own selfish interests, namely the weakening of a British Empire that had gotten very large and that threatened their own imperial holdings. To be sure, we benefited from their own self-interest, and we used their support for our own self-interest as well. So long as each nation was useful to the other, we remained allies. Once that mutual usefulness ended (and once we became a threat to their imperial holdings), our friendship ended.
We therefore first ought to recognize what the interests are of the American people at large. If our leaders are more concerned about scraps of paper negotiated among an incestuous group of diplomats than the well-being of their own people, then those leaders need to be replaced. If the political class as a whole appears to lack a knowledge of and an interest in preserving the peace and security of our nation, then that political class needs to be removed en masse and replaced with those who will commit themselves to the well-being of the people, as often as it takes for the message to sink in that the American people are serious about the matter. I believe that nations ought to be friendly with those regimes that share the same basic worldview and the same commitment to freedom and republican virtue, as those are true friends in a world where such friends are rare, even where there may be disagreement from time to time about their behavior. Every other nation or group and its causes ought to be viewed through the prism of our own national interests, with a desire to save our precious blood and treasure to the greatest degree possible. If that means that people die because of wicked leaders, that is the way it goes. This world has always been full of wickedness and injustice, and it is not our responsibility as a nation to right all of the wrongs of the world through military force. It is our responsibility to set the best possible example of justice and decency and provide ourselves as a home and a sanctuary for all who believe likewise, from wherever they may come, so that freedom may prove contagious through example, rather than something that we seek to establish at the end of a gun or a cruise missile.