Just in case anyone who has read my last two posts regarding Syria thinks I do not have qualms about U. S. military strikes in response to the avowed “red line” being crossed regarding chemical weapons, I assure you I do.
I have plenty of qualms. Fortunately, the keys ones have been expressed well in a short column by Matt Miller in the Washington Post, saving me time and effort by just linking you to them above.
However, Qualm #6 I want to quote in full here, as it touches upon the role of American exceptionalism in the world, a concept that carries many caveats for me, but one in which I share to the extent we are not like every other nation. A combination of circumstances have made us the world leader, whether we are keen on having that role or not. And this produces a unique burden on our presidents. As Miller writes in Qualm #6:
” … Syria is a reminder of how utterly unique the United States’ role remains in the world. Canadians aren’t demanding that Canada’s leaders step up and stop Assad. Swedes don’t see themselves as having a duty to enforce international law. It’s obvious but worth remembering at this moment that the power of the United States is extraordinary. As a result, so is the responsibility of the person who wins the brass ring.
…. the enormous burden of decisions like Syria — and their unknowable chain of consequences for years, and even decades — nonetheless falls to him (Obama). The ever-grayer hair is the result. In the end, thanks to one man’s choices, countless lives will be affected for good and for bad.”
Our President made a definitive statement about the use of chemical weapons at a time when it seemed a reasonable statement to make, given international condemnation of their use. As a result I believe some response must be made or our stature in the world will be diminished. Our “word” will be tarnished. How significantly, who knows? Each nation will draw its own conclusions.
Columnist Kathleen Parker, whose opinion I respect, believes this loss overrated.
“The United States still carries the biggest stick. We are still the bravest, most compassionate, most generous nation in the history of mankind. When our allies need us, our credibility is beyond reproach. We always act decisively when the stakes are clear. The world knows this. It is our exceptional history, not a single, transitory man, that inspires belief.”
I do not believe our “credibility is beyond reproach” in the eyes of our allies and as to our acting “decisively when the stakes are clear” I would point out how murky are the stakes in the Middle East these days. It is all a very messy business, so if we wait for clear stakes to crystalize, we might wait forever.
I believe our habitually gridlocked government has hurt our credibility abroad, with another example of that coming up soon in terms of raising the debt ceiling, which used to be fairly formulaic as it is necessary to pay government bills already accrued. Now the world has to wait once again to see if we avoid the folly of turning the world’s number one economic power into a deadbeat.
I believe other nations have doubts about our capacity to come together to do anything. I realize I am in the minority, but I would like to see us come together on this issue, supporting the President in limited strikes, a demonstration to the world that we can work together and do what “we” say we will do.