According to the Census Bureau, there are about 314 million people in the United States. Of these, how many do you think could make a well-informed decision as to the wisdom of our getting involved in the civil war in Syria? For such a decision to be “well-informed” factors to be considered would include at least morality, money, politics, Israel, likelihood of success, casualties on both sides, relations with other countries, image, strategy, tactics, logistics and the unfortunate term “legacy.” Please feel free to add the myriad other considerations I have surely forgotten.
Do you think 314,000 people in this country could dispassionately consider those factors and come to a well-reasoned decision? If so, that would mean 1/10 of 1% knew what they were talking about and 99.9% did not. For no particular reason other than gut feel, the 314,000-person figure seems high to me. How about 31,400? That would represent 1/100 of 1% of the entire country. If that is a correct estimate I would be impressed and proud. The real number is probably not less than 3140 or 1/1000 of one percent of all Americans.
Whatever the number is, it is small and what ever it is I am not one of them. Yet that tiny number represents the sum of all Americans who actually know what they are talking about on this question. The rest of us will be led by others. Let the spinning begin.
Former President Bill Clinton, who believes his decision not to intervene in Rwanda was his biggest failure, warned that it would be unwise to sit on the sidelines because “there was a poll in the morning paper that said 80 percent of you were against it.”
“[Y]ou’d look like a total wuss,” he continued. “And you would be. I don’t mean that a leader should go out of his way or her way to do the unpopular thing, I simply mean when people are telling you ‘no’ in these situations, very often what they’re doing is flashing a giant yellow light and saying, ‘For God’s sakes, be careful, tell us what you’re doing, think this through, be careful.”
Syria is undoubtedly a disaster. The current casualty figure is about 93,000 and President Bashar al-Assad has allegedly used chemical weapons against his people. That is a strong moral argument in favor of becoming involved.
Contrary views might begin with the words Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, none of which turned out well.
Syria is a country that never should have existed in the first place. It consists of sects and groups, having no special affection for one another but forced to inhabit an arbitrary corral defined by infelicitous post-World War I map drawing.
Nobody says this is an easy question. Do you think there is unanimity in the tiny group of people with sufficient expertise to make the decision to begin arming the Syrian rebels? If so, that would be unusual. Enter the competing narratives as the spinning begins to go both ways.
Public confidence in government is low. According to a Gallup poll taken between June 1 and 4, US adults were asked how much confidence they themselves had in a variety of American institutions. The possible responses were “a great deal,” “quite a lot,” “some,” or “very little.” The percentage of respondents choosing either of the first two was: the presidency 36%; the Supreme Court 34%; and the Congress 10%. Americans don’t seem to trust their government very much, which again increases the importance of the competing narratives.
If there is a moral view to be expressed on the question of intervening in a country when the sovereign is violating the human rights of his people, whose moral view should it be? Is it arrogant to say that it should be ours? Are Americans the only people on earth with moral views? Should such a question be decided by a consensus of moral views? If so, isn’t the United Nations the most appropriate available body to do so?
To be sure, the United Nations has shown no particular ability to act in a timely fashion, but have we helped that body to enhance its decision-making and action-taking capabilities by consistently stepping in when it acts too slowly?
Now follow the trail we cut in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Arming the rebels leads to providing advisors leads to no-fly zones leads to air cover leads to naval involvement leads to boots on the ground leads to nation building leads to casualties to say nothing of cost and “you broke it you own it.”
When there are casualties there will be bereaved families who might well believe that their loved one died so someone else would avoid “looking like a wuss.”