In 1943, Walter Lippmann penned the classic treatise U.S. Foreign Policy. This is a must-read for any foreign policy wonk. The pivotal message of this work is that America must always act in its national interest. If there is no national interest, then there need be no action (or “taking the bait“).
When it comes to Syria – or other trouble spots – just what is our “national interest“? Is there merit to telling Europeans that “Syria is in your back yard. You guys handle it“? Would it be better to sit back like we are watching a football game and let matters take their course? What should America do? America readies action against Syria — in spite of strong objections from Russia, China, the Arab League and a great many others. In spite of a disjointed (many say “nonexistent”) foreign policy and without clear policy objective – we prepare to march off as the world’s moral authority. Risking everything.
In 1975, we extricated ourselves from Viet Nam and Southeast Asia. What happened? There was genocide on a cosmic scale. In Cambodia 1.7 million people (20% of the country’s population) were slaughtered by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. And America did nothing. After we left Viet Nam, as many as 2 million civilians were murdered by the Hanoi government. America did nothing. During a horrific 100 days in 1994, over 500,000 Tutsis were massacred by rival Hutus in Rwanda. And America twiddled its thumbs. In a situation like Syria where the casualties number in the thousands is it in America’s national interest to send in the missiles? Or troops? To bomb? Support rebels? Should we get involved at all? In Egypt, we grandly supported the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. Mohammed Morsi was elected President. And within one year, he was out in a violent overthrow. And Egypt still reels from violence and uncertainty.
I’m not sure of the answer but unless our national interest is directly at stake, I’m inclined to watch from the sidelines. In the upper balcony. . . . .