Abandon the Syrian Civil War? Isolation is Never Splendid

August 6, 2013 6:53 am 7 comments

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad waving to an admiring crowd. Photo: Syrianpresidency Instagram account.

JNS.org - Among the handful of post-war leaders who could always be relied upon to support the United States unstintingly, the name of Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, stands out.

Blair wasn’t content to merely support U.S. foreign policy. He energetically advocated for American engagement and warned of the negative global consequences of an America in retreat.

In April 1999, at the height of the NATO operation against the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo carried out by Serbian forces, Blair delivered an historic speech to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, in which he addressed precisely this theme.

“We cannot turn our backs on conflicts and the violations of human rights in other countries if we want to be secure,” Blair declared, urging his American hosts to “never fall again for the doctrine of isolationism.” By spreading “the values of liberty, the rule of law, human rights and an open society,” Blair insisted, we ourselves would become safer.

I thought of Blair’s stirring words when I came across an editorial in the latest edition of the liberal Jewish newspaper, The Forward. Entitled “Letting Syria Go,” the editorial was candid in contrasting the “lame” American commitment to the Syrian rebels against the active backing that Bashar al-Assad’s foul regime has received from its allies in Russia and Iran.

According to the Forward editorial, America’s inaction over the Syrian civil war reflects “who we are now.” Obama’s “‘leading from behind’ foreign policy expresses the will of the people,” the editorial stated, because America has been “traumatized” by the combined experiences of intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Jane Eisner, the Forward’s editor, told me via email that the editorial “did not state support for isolationism or interventionism.” Eisner added, “If we accept what is our de facto isolationism, let’s at least also understand and face up to the moral implications. And if we intervene, let’s remember what we have already learned, that such a path is rife with unintended consequences and costly in blood and treasure.”

If Eisner is correct, and we really are faced with this profound choice in our foreign policy, then it’s worth examining the assumptions of those who lean towards isolationism. After all, this is a loose grouping that spans left-wing Democrats, who falsely suggest that there is an irreconcilable contradiction between educating our children at home and defending human rights abroad, and right-wing Republicans, who are quite content to live, to resurrect a term that was popular in the 19th century, in “splendid isolation.”

To begin with, not everyone agrees that Iraq and Afghanistan were traumatic experiences. As Commentary magazine’s Abe Greenwald has pointed out, in both theaters, America “gained the essential skills for counterinsurgency and nation-building.” In Afghanistan, our military prowess resulted in the killing of Osama Bin Laden, as well as the chance for thousands of girls to attend school, in open defiance of the misogynistic Taliban. In Iraq, we got rid of one of the ugliest regimes on the face of the earth, paving the way for peaceful and genuinely free elections in 2009.

Additionally, not every military engagement involves putting thousands of our own troops on the ground. In Syria, we’ve had the option of arming and training the Free Syrian Army, as well as imposing a No Fly Zone, a measure supported by U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) among others.

Yes, yes, the isolationists will say, but beware the unintended consequences of such actions: we will get sucked into a quagmire from which we cannot escape. Well, if avoiding unintended consequences is the primary goal of our foreign policy, then perhaps we should dispense with having a foreign policy in the first place.

Whether we like it or not, regional conflicts are a reflection of the global power balance. In Syria, our fear of unintended consequences has caused us to shrink in the face of Moscow’s aggressive backing of Assad. No wonder that Russian President Vladimir Putin granted asylum to the fugitive traitor Edward Snowden; Putin did so because he thinks we’re weak. He will continue to test that weakness again and again, especially over Iran.

As things currently stand, our failure in Syria has cost more than 100,000 lives in a conflict which, says the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, is the worst since the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. In turning our backs on the Syrians, we have also effectively ditched our commitment to the “responsibility to protect,” a concept that emerged from the pained international debate about defending human rights that followed both the Rwandan genocide and the war in Bosnia. And in taking such a stance, we are denying the linkage made by Tony Blair between our own security at home and the development of prosperous, stable democracies abroad.

The question of whether or not to intervene in such brutal conflicts should concern us as Jews, as well as Americans. We remember only too well how outside indifference to the Holocaust aided the Nazis in their program to eliminate the Jews. And we are well aware that Israel’s security can only be enhanced by promoting, in Tony Blair’s words, “human rights and an open society” in the countries neighboring it.

Finally, let’s be honest and admit that isolationism is selective. As practiced by the Obama Administration, it involves shying away from the tough conflicts in favor of focusing on the easier ones, like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Because Israel is our closest ally, it is therefore amenable to our suggestions, worries and even pressure.

We don’t have anywhere near that level of clout with the Assads of this world. Yet it is these nasty regimes colluding with our great adversaries, Russia and China, who pose the greatest threat to our security and our values. If we are worrying about unintended consequences, how about this one? A chastened, humbled America universally regarded as having betrayed its founding principles.

Because that’s where isolationism will take us.

Ben Cohen is the Shillman Analyst for JNS.org. His writings on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Ha’aretz, Jewish Ideas Daily and many other publications.

7 Comments

  • Vivienne Leijonhufvud

    Syria is not Israel’s problem, unless Syria attacks? As for backing terrorist organizations in Syria this is as bad as backing Assad. Putin in his view has chosen the lesser of the two evils, note he has not sent SS-300′s? One must remember these terrorist groups are linked to Muslim Brotherhood, whom Egypt has just removed, as well others. Basically both sides contain terrorists so why not let them kill each other off. The US is preparing to lift Sanctions to Iran? Russia’s client nation? Did Putin anticipate this? Israel has made some headway with Russia.Israel. Russia is an Oil and Gas Producer. China would like an opportunity to import OIL needs from Iraq/Iran and Kuwait. Balikpapan, Indonesia, cannot satisfy all of China’s future needs. Obama needs to keep the status quo rolling with Saudi, he will do so at any cost.

  • I think you overlook one very important reason why the West, especially America, is not supporting either side in Syria – 911, and all the other Islamic based terrorist attacks. The Islamic world, through terrorist attacks on non-Islamic countries, has created a world-wide disgust with Islam. We will just watch as the Islamic world tears itself apart. Maybe we’ll send a card.

  • Assad is the last truly awful Arab despot !

    • I CAN THINK OF ANOTHER DESPOTIC ARAB REGIME:

      How about Somolia. Now that has been described as making war on Christians and very aggressive in their actions.Could that be considered despotic?

      Should we invade them too, shall we be the world policeman to all the middle east, with our money, jets and troops? When do we stop, when we are totally bankrupt, or when the Chinese stop loaning us money?

      Shall we leave nothing for our children besides a bankrupt America with great memories, but not much of a future? Give it a thought my friend, do we stop before the money runs out.

  • Herb Grossman

    I agree with artcohn. There is no good side to support. If the Iraq-Iran war of the 1980s had continued until now, what a better world this would be.

  • The author of this article is a fool and a coward. Unless he is willing to go to Syria – or any other cesspool “over there,”and fight, or send his son, he should just shut up.

  • Assad has been very awful with his hate of Israel, and his support for Hizballah and Iran. The rebels fighting him differ among them selves, but they all also hate Israel. Let them keep killing them selves!

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Featured Sports World Palestinian Soccer League Withdraws Bid to Suspend Israel From FIFA

    Palestinian Soccer League Withdraws Bid to Suspend Israel From FIFA

    The head of Israel’s soccer association called on his Palestinian counterpart to “join forces,” as the Palestinian Football Association withdrew its bid on Friday to have Israel suspended from FIFA. “Let’s leave it to the politicians to do politics,” said Israel Football Association chief Ofer Eini, moments after PFA Chairman Jibril Rajoub announced that his group had withdrawn the proposal. After his remarks, Eini shook hands with the Palestinian soccer chief. Rajoub thanked “those” who convinced him to drop the [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Israeli-American Group Congratulates Cavaliers’ Blatt on Reaching NBA Finals

    Israeli-American Group Congratulates Cavaliers’ Blatt on Reaching NBA Finals

    JNS.org – An organization whose work focuses on the estimated population of 500,000-800,000 Israeli Americans congratulated David Blatt, the Jewish head coach of the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Cleveland Cavaliers and a longtime Israel-based coach, for clinching an appearance in the NBA Finals. The Israeli-American Council (IAC), whose stated mission is “to build an active and giving Israeli-American community throughout the United States in order to strengthen the State of Israel, our next generation, and to provide a bridge to [...]

    Read more →
  • Food US & Canada Bacon Flavor Ben & Jerry’s ‘Not Gonna Happen’ Because it Wouldn’t be Kosher

    Bacon Flavor Ben & Jerry’s ‘Not Gonna Happen’ Because it Wouldn’t be Kosher

    Famed ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s will not be introducing a Bacon flavored product to its offerings because the company intends to keep its entire line kosher, Marketing Director Alison Gilbert told AOL’s morning show Rise recently. “It’s kind of funny, a lot of people look for bacon in our ice cream, which is probably not gonna happen because all of our ice cream is kosher,” she said, referring to Jewish dietary restrictions that proscribe the consumption of pig [...]

    Read more →
  • Israel Sports Israeli Judo Team Faces Antisemitic Harassment in Morocco: ‘We Will Murder You’

    Israeli Judo Team Faces Antisemitic Harassment in Morocco: ‘We Will Murder You’

    Israeli athletes at a world Judo championship in Morocco reportedly faced antisemitic slurs during the competition, news site WorldNetDaily reported on Monday. “We will murder you,” and “you’re not wanted here, go home,” were among the vituperative attacks directed at the Israeli Judo Association team, which was in Morocco last week for the World Masters Judo Tournament. According to Haaretz, each Israeli teammate was met with boos and jeers upon entering a fight. Additionally, no Israeli flags were present at [...]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Lady Gaga Accepts ADL Award: ‘Your Philosophies Are So in Line With Ours’ (VIDEO)

    Lady Gaga Accepts ADL Award: ‘Your Philosophies Are So in Line With Ours’ (VIDEO)

    Pop superstar Lady Gaga on Thursday accepted an award from Jewish human rights group the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on behalf of her Born This Way Foundation, which strives to combat bullying among young people. “Your philosophies are so in line with ours,” she said of the ADL upon accepting the Making a Difference Award in a videotaped message, which was shown at a ceremony in New York City. “We want to help young people know that their feelings and who they are on [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Personalities At 80, Singer-Songwriter Leonard Cohen’s Jewish Roots ‘Very Much Intact’

    At 80, Singer-Songwriter Leonard Cohen’s Jewish Roots ‘Very Much Intact’

    JNS.org – Eighty years young, Leonard Cohen fits many descriptions—singer, songwriter, poet, novelist, monk. From his Jewish upbringing in Canada to the present day, Cohen has always explored his spiritual side. This month, the singer-songwriter released the CD (May 12) and iTunes (on May 8 of this year) formats of his latest album, Can’t Forget: A Souvenir of the Grand Tour, which features live recordings from his world tours in 2012 and 2013. Last year, Cohen’s Popular Problems was voted by Rolling Stone [...]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports FIFA Head Says Israel Should Not be Booted From World Soccer Association

    FIFA Head Says Israel Should Not be Booted From World Soccer Association

    JNS.org – Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) head Sepp Blatter said during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that contrary to Palestinian complaints, Israel has not violated any FIFA statutes and should not be suspended from international soccer’s governing body. “We should not come to one federation saying we will exclude them,” said Blatter, the Jerusalem Post reported. “If the national association is fulfilling its obligations then there is no need to intervene,” he said. “I’m on a [...]

    Read more →
  • Featured Middle East Sports Jewish Rights Group Slams Palestinian Attempts to Suspend Israel From FIFA

    Jewish Rights Group Slams Palestinian Attempts to Suspend Israel From FIFA

    Jewish human rights group the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) said on Tuesday it was “appalled” by a Palestinian Football Association initiative to suspend Israel from FIFA, calling it another “front waged in the context of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign.” “We are appalled at the temerity of the Palestinan Football Association (PFA) demand that FIFA suspend Israel at your forthcoming Congress in Zurich,” wrote the group’s international relations director, Dr. Shimon Samuels, in a letter to FIFA President Joseph [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.