The enthusiasm, by some, for intervening in the Syrian civil war is palpable and indignant. Those who would use military weapons of any sort - most of all special weapons such as poisonous gas - against civilians should be held to account and quickly. But there is an entirely too selective scope for Administration outrage. There are hundreds of places around this world where, by such reasoning, this country needs to be shooting bullets and launching missiles against bad people. But we don't, and we won't.
Governments all around the world mistreat their residents: this country for one. Should we launch a missile strike at Wisconsin for Scott Walker arresting protestors he doesn't like for free speech he doesn't approve? Should we invade NYC with aerial strikes because its police department intentionally harasses, injures, and even kills minority residents with abuses of the law and physical violence?
(No. Concerning ourselves, we remain - mostly with some 2nd Amend. types notwithstanding - somewhat confident that such problems can be resolved by the courts and the ballot box. Why do we not look for such confidence beyond our own shores?)
This country just had such a bold opportunity for military ardor as Syria now presents a few weeks ago, but I didn't see anyone anywhere saying we should launch air strikes against Egypt for its military overthrowing its civilian government lawfully elected under law and gunning down protestors in the streets.
Not one person.
Why? Its too easy. Egypt is a foreign relation ally, a "friend", as it were.
Syria? Nope. Longtime "friend" of first the USSR, then Russia; longtime foe of Israel (Egypt's not, not the least for the billions we pay U.S. defense contractors to give them weapons); and, perhaps most tellingly, friend of Iran, the country our government hates most in the Middle East, even though they have far more cause to hate us.
Our warlord allies in Afghanistan stuffed prisoners in shipping containers and left them to die in the sun. Our central Asia allies such as Uzbekistan boiled their opponents alive. Even the Israelis, who fired white phosphorus rounds into civilian areas in Gaza.
There's no doubt that someone, perhaps even the Assad regime, gassed hundreds; that investigation is still ongoing, much to the disdain of the war party now as an earlier investigation was back in 2003. Our so-called "friends" have also killed their scores of thousands, and our government sees nothing. And does nothing.
Meanwhile, in over two years of fighting, tens of thousands of government and rebel soldiers and fighters have been killed, along with thousands of civilians. When were the cruise missile threats before now.
So one can appreciate the skepticism greeting the President's sabre-rattling...
Where would folks in favor of intervention draw the line; how would they defend such a line? They would certainly rationalize, cite certain aspects of economy and efficiencies, and, behold, decide that Syria's "worth" bombing and Egypt, behold, was not.
As Charlie Pierce has made clear, the people of Syria are not going to see our cruise missiles as some sort of "gift of freedom" - they will see as a just more violence by more outsiders that they have to find a way to live around. They will not appreciate us for lobbing more explosives at them; they will not love us more for blowing them up.
J. Q. Adams stated in well in a time when the U.S. was no more than sovereign in its own right, when the dreams of global power could still be recognized for the nightmares they actually are. He spoke on the floor of the House of Representatives on Independence Day, 1821 (emphasis added):
And now, friends and countrymen, if the wise and learned philosophers of the older world, the first observers of mutation and aberration, the discoverers of maddening ether and invisible planets, the inventors of Congreve rockets and shrapnel shells, should find their hearts disposed to inquire, what has America done for the benefit of mankind? let our answer be this–America, with the same voice which spoke herself into existence as a nation, proclaimed to mankind the inextinguishable rights of human nature, and the only lawful foundations of government. America, in the assembly of nations, since her admission among them, has invariably, though often fruitlessly, held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, of equal freedom, of generous reciprocity. She has uniformly spoken among them, though often to heedless and often to disdainful ears, the language of equal liberty, equal justice, and equal rights. She has, in the lapse of nearly half a century, without a single exception, respected the independence of other nations, while asserting and maintaining her own. She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when the conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart. She has seen that probably for centuries to come, all the contests of that Aceldama, the European World, will be contests between inveterate power, and emerging right. Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will recommend the general cause, by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself, beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. The frontlet upon her brows would no longer beam with the ineffable splendor of freedom and independence; but in its stead would soon be substituted an imperial diadem, flashing in false and tarnished lustre the murky radiance of dominion and power. She might become the dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.From the distance of time, Adams' words seem quaint and irrelevant, but only because we as a country have known nothing but global empire since 1945. But we now live in a world where the use of armed force to achieve what are rationalized as "democratic" ends of "freedom" are regarded by the world as themselves quaint, if they weren't so murderous. Ultimately, thanks to a too-long and persistent reliance of force, this country has suffered strategic defeat both in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I suspect that the Founders and their children, like John Quincy Adams, could likely find Presidents such as Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton beneath contempt for their misuse of American power, prestige, and good will. We should aspire to be the kind of citizen that objects to the subversion of our Democracy into such malign Empire. I'm tired of voting for the War Party, even when it carries the Democratic brand.