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Should America Police the World?

The use of force in the protection of others is something I actually believe in. I think we can defend ourselves and others. People in Syria are being attacked. We are using force, ostensibly in protection of an offended party. Right now, sitting, literally in my armchair, I think we should not intervene. Might I change my mind in the future? I might. But below is the line of reasoning I’ve gone through. Is it flawed?

Does dropping bombs mean America is back? Where had we gone?

President Trump just ordered 59 missiles launched into Syria in response to gas attacks on civilians by Syrian president Bashar Assad. There are some who say this attack was not done by Assad but rather is what’s called a “false flag” which means someone else did it and made it to look as if Assad did. Others say that this behavior is consistent with Assad and say that he has done this many times before.

If America Exists

One group of people are pleased that we have taken this action because they feel we cannot stand by while gas is used to kill innocent women and children. The theme that I’ve heard from several sources is “America is Back!” and “there’s a new sheriff in town!”.

Noted columnist Charles Krauthammer is the one who said,  “there is a sheriff in town”. He went on to indicate he felt there has been no such authority for the last eight years. He said, “America is back, and you’re not allowed to do whatever you want.” Personally, I think he’s very wrong about what happened over the last eight years. It’s a well-known statistic that during 2016 alone Obama authorized over 26,000 bombs to be dropped, sent 3500 troops and tanks to Poland (as a message to Russia), in his first term he launched over 20,000 airstrikes, assassinated ISIS leaders with drones, we interfered in Somalia, Pakistan, Syria, Libya, Israel, Yemen, and Afghanistan. That hardly sounds like a sheriff who has sat around the office doing nothing.

To counter this Krauthammer says, “Unlike Obama, where you’d have weeks of public hand-wringing. Remember when he came up with the policy on Afghanistan? It took something like 8 months. This is about 48 hours, and America strikes.” That much is true. Trump’s action was quick. However, some will point out, not too quick. He didn’t immediately authorize bombs. He gathered information, talked to the experts and military men, then decided but did so quickly.

I think it is undeniable that this does send a message to other countries. The question that leads us to ask is if that is a good message or not.

Clearly, not everyone is pleased we bombed Syria

Not just Russia, for whom Syria is a tepid ally, but many here in the United States are displeased at our action in Syria. Kevin Williamson from National Review called Trump’s actions in Syria “illegal in any case”. That much, of course is entirely debatable. Illegal according to what laws? Not the Constitution which gives the President broad war powers. It’s common sited that only Congress can declare war. That much is true. But Trump didn’t declare war, he too military action. American has only declared war 5 times in history. Setting that aside he does give a pretty good reason for his opinion,

“The United States does not have any national interest in the success of the ISIS-aligned coalition fighting to depose Assad. The United States does not have any interest in strengthening the position of the Assad regime and the position of his Russian and Iranian patrons.”

It is difficult to be sure for us to understand what role (if any) American interests and American national security plays in the Syrian conflict. ISIS are terrorists so we could say if they win that gives terrorism a stronghold. The counter to that is the Atlantic ocean. Meaning just because they have a stronghold doesn’t mean they will be able to parlay that into increased attacks here in the United States. If Assad wins that doesn’t mean ISIS will give up attacking the US. Those are Williamson’s arguments which he uses to say Trump acted illegally because it is only when there is an immediate need that the President is authorized to use force without congressional approval.

Trump gives his reasons in a statement, “It is in this vital national-security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons. There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention, and ignored the urging of the U.N. Security Council.”

Basically he’s saying he’s pre-authorized by Obama’s “red line” and the UN’s stance on chemical weapons, a stance that has been shared since World War I by a general consensus of nations. We saw during that war just horrible such weapons are even when compared to the already horrible conventional weapons and the world decided they should not be used.

Clearly the action will be debated

For me, I debate less about this particular action than I do action in general. I think that how one feels about Trump tends to color one’s opinion on these particular strikes. The left shouts out a “See! We told you he was a loose cannon.” Forgetting when they say this that Hillary was 100% behind bombing Syria. The right shouts, “this is illegal action, he’s going to start WWII”. While ignoring the fact that they said nothing during the Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama presidencies about actions much more extreme than what Trump has done here. That leaves me wanting to set aside the pundits and so-called experts for a moment. I think they are biased and not likely to give us any clear understanding about this action or others like it.

If there is to be a real debate about US involvement in world conflicts I think it will have to take place in our own minds and with each other. I’ve heard it said so many times, “American can’t police the world!” or “American isn’t the world’s police.”

But from what I’ve seen during my lifetime we ARE the world’s police.

I urge anyone who think they can argue against that conclusion to try. I don’t think you will be successful in demonstrating that we aren’t or that we can’t be the world’s police. Actions speak louder than words and for many decades we’ve been taking action in every quarter of the globe. So the question to be asked is actually, “should we be the world’s police?”

I have a feeling that for almost everyone the quick answer is a fast and resounding, “no!” that we should not be the world’s police. Anecdotally, almost all of the people I have spoken to on this subject have that same answer. We should not be the world’s police. The reason most often shared with me for holding this position, interestingly enough, is that we can’t be (meaning not effectively). We could never police the world properly, they maintain, so we shouldn’t try. Some add that because we can’t properly do it, that the countries themselves should do it. It’s not our job. I’m guessing many of you reading hold that same opinion. Not our job!

I will be upfront, not string you along, and tell you know that I too take the “not our job” approach to this question. However, that is not a position that is easy for me to take and one that I suspect I am not entirely wedded to. While it is many people’s quick answer I have a feeling that it is such a quick easy answer because they haven’t taken the time to really think about it. Pondering this issue makes maintaining that stance much more difficult, at least in my opinion it does.

“911 – What’s your emergency?”

Imagine a police officer shows up at the scene of a reported fight in the street. He arrives and sees a crowd gathered watching. The two women in the combat are slapping, pulling hair, scratching, and cursing. The officer pulls up in his squad car and sees this going on.

He walks toward the combatants and joins the crowd watching them. Certainly someone would look at him and ask, “aren’t you going to do something?”

He is the police, so there is an expectation that he stop the combat.

He could turn back to that person and say, “you’ve been standing here for 10 minutes before the police were even notified. Why didn’t you do something?”

“Because I’m not the police.” Both sides could feel rather secure in the knowledge that the combatants are adults and they both chose to fight.

Sure, one started it, but the other didn’t just sit there and take it, they came out swinging. “Let them fight. What business is it of mine?”

Now change that scenario a little. One of those women, still engaged in mutual combat with the other, turns around and slaps one of the children standing in the circle of onlookers. Imagine if instead of a slap she poured gasoline over the child and lit fire to it.

My point is, that for most humane humans “not my business” has a limit. There is a point at which most of will make it our business. This is especially true when one side in the combat takes an action that 1. harms innocent people 2. is considered by those viewing to be “cheating”. This is especially true of Americans who love a fair fight. We don’t mind one bit that two people solve their differences. But if one of them hits a man while he’s down, throws a sucker punch, or uses a weapon in a fist fight, well, culturally that ticks up off a bit.

That’s where Syria is. Yes, it’s a civil war and it’s a war that really isn’t much of our business but when we see children killed with outlawed serin gas we tend to see this as a low blow, as cheating, and our very powerful sense of justice compels us to step in on behalf of the individual who is unable to stand up for themselves. This really is a natural result of our American value system. It is this sense of right and wrong that makes it so difficult for an American president to stand on the sidelines and do nothing.

If God exists why does he allow bad things to happen to good people?

Of course no President is God, nor is American a god, but there is a concept here that applies. How many atheists have you heard express the above though as the reason (or main reason) for their atheism? A quick search on YouTube and you will find plenty of them. The notion is, if God can do something to stop bad things and doesn’t, then he can’t possibly be good. America, while not God, certainly has the ability to stop bad things from happening to good people. We could ask, “if America exists, then why does it allow bad things to happen to good people?”

It is because we have the reputation for being the police of the world that an expectation has formed that America will do something. We don’t just attack, we rebuild. We didn’t just level Germany, we helped rebuild it. Same is true for Japan. This has come to represent the purpose of American attacks as not being about hate and to show there are no hard feelings, we lend a hand after the conflict is over.

Children are being gassed in Syria. Period. Does it matter why? Children are innocent. No matter the conflict taking place in Syria, they certainly didn’t start it, they certainly have done nothing to continue it, yet they suffer. Why gas children? It’s a great way to bend your enemy to your will, to show them you will do anything and anyone they love is going to die if they continue fighting. American bombs send a message to Assad, “Not so fast. Fight fair.” Making the target the airbase from which the attacks were carried out we take away the unfair advantage. It’s like taking away the brass knuckles from one of the combatants in a street fight and making them fight fair. Yes, they’ve already landed one unfair blow with them, but for the rest of the fight, they’ll do it right.

But what if we aren’t the police but instead we are the crowd standing there watching? Is it none of our business? Is it none of are business because they are half way across the world? Is it none of our business when our neighbor beats his wife because – fill in the reason here – and a man’s home is his business and his castle and it’s his family and his issue?

All of those things seem like extremely good reasons for Trump to take the action that he took. Are Americans good people or aren’t we? Can we believe that America exists if it allows bad things to happen to good people?

But wait, I thought you said American shouldn’t have taken action. All that sounds like you should have!

Yup, I know it sounds that way. There’s a good reason for that, it’s because this is a very complex issue and I can never arrive at a conclusion without a great deal of thought and that requires seeing both sides of the issue.

So in this case we have to sort of answer that terrible question that gets asked. Even though the answers don’t entirely line up it is somewhat instructive. If God exists why does he allow bad things to happen to good people? I believe, and you may not, that this happens for a few reasons

  1. Men have the freedom to chose what they will do. When it comes to judgement day it is how men used their agency that will determine God’s judgement of them.
  2. People who are faced with adversity very often grow from it and become stronger.
  3. Those who witness adversity that occurs to others are often motivated to take positive action, show forth love, and have greater sympathy for their fellow beings.

So God allows bad things to happen to good people because they learn from those experiences or others learn from them or the wicked seal their doom by them. If God interceded there would be no learning and no purpose to our being here. It has been demonstrated that nations that fight for their own freedom tend to value that freedom more highly. Though it does seem difficult to believe not all nations are ready for freedom. They need it, they deserve it, and they have it as their right of existence, but that doesn’t mean they are ready to properly manage it. People are that way. Think about some people you know. Do you know someone who had everything handed to them as children? Do you know someone who had little as a child and worked for what they had? Often, the person who worked for it appreciates it more greatly. I knew a couple of youth while I was growing up. They had every cool toy and a play room to keep them in. Their toys were broken, scattered, and seldom played with. I had few toys and what I had was almost exclusively second hand. Some were gifts but many required that I mow the lawn, or wash the dishes, or keep my room clean. My toys were well cared for. There is an argument to be made that America should let other nations pick their own destinies because those people are free to chose.

In keeping with my belief that men have control over their own destinies I also feel that imposing a way of life or one’s own will on others affects the person doing the imposing.  For example, a man who forces his wife to dress a certain way, is changed by his use of force. His own personality becomes altered and not for the better. Our national character becomes altered when we intervene. Each time we intervene it costs America. Not just in treasure. Though, that is a factor, we spend billions on war. I don’t mind spending billions on defense mind you, that’s a legitimate function of government and use of tax payer dollars, but war, not so much.

People, unlike God, cannot judge all things. We’re told that God knows the end from the beginning. Most certainly no president of the United States every has had this knowledge. If an American president had known, going into Vietnam, how it would have looked coming out I don’t think we would ever had gone in. Can Trump know the end of his actions? No. Think about Iraq for a moment. The leftist press seems to revel in posting the numbers of American dead, but have you noticed we seldom see the number of Iraqi dead? That’s because the numbers are so lopsided as to be obscene even to the left. The best estimates have it at over a million. That feels far beyond justice and necessity. Far beyond balancing the scales for the weak. Bush, and Obama, championed regime change in the Middle East.  What has been the objective result of this policy? Has it been blissful freedom and democracy for the masses? No. It’s been chaos and destabilization of the entire region, abuse, destruction, and millions feeling their homes. Even for those who do not want refugees to live among them they should at least have sympathy for their plight.

The UN estimates that 4.9 million Syrians have been forced to flee their homes due to the war there. That’s more than a million more people than the population of the city of Las Angeles. Think about that for a moment. What would it be like if everyone in L.A. suddenly had to leave the city in a hurry?

According to the UN both sides in the Syrian civil war have committed war crimes and atrocities. Yet America has picked a side. There are many who believe that without US intervention the protests of the Arab Spring would never have risen to full scale civil war.

“President Obama’s gross miscalculation in 2013 was to wager that the conflict could be contained within Syria’s borders. Reflecting a widely held realpolitik view at the time, political scientist John Mearsheimer argued that Syria did not affect the core strategic interests of the West and was of “little importance for American security.”

Looking back, we can see how misguided this assessment was. It was arguably the biggest foreign policy miscalculation of the Obama presidency. Not only has the Syrian conflict deeply destabilized the Middle East, but its ripple effects have dramatically re-shaped politics around the world, including the domestic politics of the United States.
That is all now Trump’s problem and we’ve seen how he’s going to deal with it. I don’t think he’s going to change his mind. I think he’s taking action based on the sincere belief that he’s the white knight, that he’s the guy evening the scales. That’s an easy thing to think, to feel, and to act on. It feels good to help people, it feels terrible to see them suffer. It feels even worse to see them suffer when you feel there is something you could do about it. I am for helping, I’m for justice, I’m for protecting the weak from those who would abuse them. I don’t point the finger of scorn at anyone who approves of what Trump did. Not at all. However, seeing as we aren’t dealing with a man beating his wife, or a child being abused, nothing so clear cut and black and white, so easy to parse as that, we’re dealing with the world stage and massive interconnected events that can alter the lives of millions of people. Each bomb is a butterfly effect and I for one cannot see the end from the beginning.
Until such time as I have much greater wisdom and prescience than I currently have I must reserve the use of American force to those occasions where we are attacked, or where one of our allies are attacked and a treaty exists that directs action.
Might I change my mind in the future? I might.
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