It is not difficult to understand why our war-weary nation is reluctant to stand with President Barack Obama in his decision that the Assad regime in Syria must face the wrath of the outside world for using chemical weapons against its own people as the country’s bloody civil war rages unabated.
After all, we have sacrificed thousands of American lives and hundreds of billions of dollars in prolonged warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan, with the shadow of Vietnam hanging still over our military policy decisions.
Coupled with the loss of lives and the expenditure of national treasure is the equally understandable uneasy feeling that in previous administrations our leaders have lied to us about the necessity for war and the perceived outcome.
It is not surprising, therefore, that many Americans would prefer not only to bring an end to our overseas military adventures but also to refrain from further entanglement, especially when there is no clearly defined national security interest at stake.
This is a turbulent era for parts of the world, especially the Middle East, where, finally, people repressed for many decades are starting to demand freedom and democracy and are willing to die fighting for the ideals we take for granted. It is to be expected, therefore, that even more of these civil wars will break out and be just as bloody as what happened in Libya and now Syria. As much as we would like to see any transition that takes place happen peacefully, that is sadly not the reality. The interests of ruling elites is too entrenched for them to simply accept that their time is past. Internecine religious differences only complicate matters.
But Syria is a different matter. According to a variety of sources, in addition to President Obama, the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons in its battle to stay in power, killing more than 1,400 people, including more than 400 children. There is some skepticism that this happened but the question remains: Why would a president who has been awarded the Noble Peace Prize and is certainly not a warmonger put the credibility of his presidency and the prestige of the United States of America on the line if he is not convinced that the atrocity took place? There is nothing for him to gain, except the knowledge that during his watch a murderous dictator used chemical weapons on his people and America responded.
Ideally, that response should be a declaration of war by all nations of good conscience against Bashar Al-Assad and the cutthroats around him. But realpolitik and the raw wounds of recent history can complicate even the most straightforward act of decency.
So what President Obama proposes is simply to target the regime with cruise missiles. It is the least that can be done, whether by the world community or by us alone, to act on the moral imperative and our obligation as members of the human race to give expression to our outrage.
If the world fails to act, Mr. Obama said Wednesday, it will send a message that despots and authoritarian regimes “can continue to act with impunity… The moral thing to do is not to stand by and do nothing,” On that there should be no arugment.