On Syria, America Can’t ‘Stay Home’

August 29, 2013 7:02 am 2 comments

A victim of the alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria. Photo: Screenshot.

President Obama’s dithering actions and non-response to events in the Middle East show the US is slipping back into the deep foreign policy chasm — between those who want the US to play a world role and those who want to stay home — that crosses party lines

Soldiers dying in Iraq and Afghanistan combined with stark budget realities have united many on the Right and Left — libertarians, conservatives and progressives — to urge America to stay out of world trouble spots. They say America has gotten its fingers burned trying to help those who end up being ungrateful.

The bipartisan instinct that once brought Americans together to fight Communism and Nazism flared briefly after 9-11 in a fight against Islamism and the Arab-Islamic terror it spawned, but now that unity has abated. The isolationist impulse is rising.

The Left charged “Bush lied and soldiers died” — that the war in Iraq was not really about stopping terror or weapons of mass destruction but some other hidden agenda. On the Right people like former Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul hint America brought on 9-11 by getting involved in the Mid-East.

Ron Paul and his son Rand say cutting foreign aid will save money, and the Left says cutting the US military saves even more money. Besides, who needs to spend money on planes and ships and look for trouble? Throwing America’s weight around is what makes people hate us. So they say.

This is not just a post-Vietnam or post-Iraq fear of military involvement, but something much broader. President Obama clearly sees a smaller role for the US in the world — not just “leading from behind” in Libya, but staying behind almost any place where there is any kind of military danger or political risk.

“U.S. national defense spending as a percent of GDP has ranged from a high of 15 percent in 1952 (during the Korean War) to a low of 3.7 percent in 2000 (the period of relative tranquility preceding the terrorist attacks of the following year),” according to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

In other words, Bill Clinton’s years as president, that preceded 9-11, brought the strongest draw-down on operational spending and size of US naval fleets and planes since the Korean War. President Barack Obama is set to deepen that trend.

“President Barack Obama’s budget proposes cutting security spending to 2.4% of GDP in 2023. This would represent the lowest allocation of GDP to defense spending in the post-World War II era,” said CFR.

“Our Navy is smaller than it’s been since 1917,” said GOP candidate Mitt Romney last year, adding, “Our Air Force is smaller and older than any time since 1947.”

Romney was right to blame Obama, but some of the low numbers are due to the Clinton era trend that actually bottomed out in fewest ships under George W. Bush in 2005. Another factor is lower national income, which also dampens military spending. However, Obama wants to accelerate the trend and make still deeper cuts in defense.

Force or even the threat to force is passé. President Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry want to “be flexible” with China, Russia, Iran and North Korea.

Obama and his advisors want desperately to “engage.” To borrow a line from the 60′s they seek “to make love, not war.” But so far their attempts at love have been spurned. When you deal with terrorists and dictators, the Beatles’ message “All You Need Is Love” is not the ticket to ride.

Historically, low defense spending by democratic states seems to embolden dictators and terrorists. The 2000 Clinton lull preceded 9-11, and the low spending by the US and Britain in the late 20′s and 30′s seemed to encourage Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo. It may be happening again.

When Edward Snowden grabs highly sensitive material, escapes with it to China and Russia, with whom Obama-Clinton-Kerry flirted endlessly, and the president’s response is ignoring China and not meeting with Russia’s dictator, then it is a sign that America’s role and her clout have diminished.

When the Russian foreign minister Sergei Levrov publicly shields the use of chemical weapons by Syria’s dictator to murder thousands, it is another sign that pronouncements of “red lines” by President Obama do not carry much credibility.

Supporters of a robust US world role remember what inaction and isolationism brought in the 1930′s and 1940′s and on 9-11. Yet, a proper world role by the US need not just mean a world war or war on terror. Sometimes it means stopping railway cars going to Auschwitz or inhibiting genocide in Rwanda.

Sometimes the proper role, to cite the Bible, is not to stand by when one’s brother’s blood is spilled (See Leviticus, 20:16). This is part of the Judeo-Christian ethic that formed America, and it is what makes America different from most other countries.

America should act out of self-interest, but not only self-interest. More than other nations, Americans help people in trouble, whether it is an earthquake or genocide. Sometimes, however, US leaders fail, as when Hitler massacred Jews (Franklin Roosevelt) and the Tutsis massacred 200,000 Hutus in Rwanda (Bill Clinton).

Acting altruistically is often really self-interest. Stopping a dictator or a terrorist group at an early stage helps Americans. Hitler started by murdering Germans. Osama Bin-Laden and Ayman Zawahiri began by attacking Muslims. Yet, stopping a Hitler or a Bin-Laden earlier would have saved American lives.

Obviously, America cannot fight every wrong in the world. It has to pick the right time and place, lest it slip into a quagmire.

Yes, George Washington warned against “entangling alliances,” but that was when it took several months for news from Europe to reach America. Today the world is a much smaller place, and events in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Egypt and Syria can have an impact, literally, in New York, Washington, St. Louis and Los Angeles.

Imagining that America can stay home, ignore the world, and be safe is not using one’s imagination. It is simply pretending.

It is like facing nightmares by pulling the covers over our heads. However, the world has some real nightmares, and they have to be faced in the full light of day.

The 9-11 Commission said America was struck by terror because it stopped exercising imagination. We must use our wisdom and imagination — Left and Right — to see where American can resume its rightful and responsible role in facing dangers that start abroad but can eventually reach us at home.

Dr. Michael Widlanski, visiting professor at UC Irvine and an expert on Arab politics and communications, is the author of Battle for Our Minds:Western Elites and the Terror Threat published by Threshold/Simon and Schuster. A former reporter, correspondent and editor respectively at The New York Times, Cox Newspapers, and The Jerusalem Post, he served as Strategic Affairs Advisor in Israel’s Ministry of Public Security.

This article was originally published by the American Thinker.

2 Comments

  • Despite the fears of any mission launched against Syria could drag Israel into another middle east conflict when do we say enough is enough ,,do we bury our heads in the sand and allow massacres togo un punished ,does this give any regime the green light to use chemical weapons,on not just its own population or any,that is the greatest fear we face

    to do nothing is as bad to do something ,,isnt a argument civilization depend on their ability to up hold justice and not turn a blind eye to injustice terror and mass murder as jew we should know what happens when the world closes its eyes ,and turns off the sounds of suffering,,6m souls paid the highest price of indifference — its not the call on policing the world ,but bring the world to face its accusations and its criminals to justice,,

  • Obama shows Netanyahu that Israel is truly alone

    In Syria, Iran and Lebanon, the president’s decision to seek Congressional approval for a military strike is recognized as proof of weakness and hesitancy. In Jerusalem too. Rabbi dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

Leave a Reply

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


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Book Reviews Personalities Biography Sheds New Light on David Ben-Gurion’s Place in Jewish History

    Biography Sheds New Light on David Ben-Gurion’s Place in Jewish History

    JNS.org – There is one sentence in “Ben-Gurion: Father of Modern Israel” that made me sit up in surprise. I thought that I knew the basic facts about how Israel came into being, but while describing what it was like in the days and hours before the state was declared, author Anita Shapira provides one important anecdote I was not aware of. On the 12th of May, the Zionist Executive met to decide what to do. Moshe Sharrett had just returned [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada ‘Death of Klinghoffer’ Actress Compares Met Opera to ‘Schindler’s List’

    ‘Death of Klinghoffer’ Actress Compares Met Opera to ‘Schindler’s List’

    An actress starring in the controversial Met Opera The Death of Klinghoffer defended the show on Tuesday by comparing it to the 1993 Holocaust film Schindler’s List, New York Post reported. “To me, this was like [the movie] Schindler’s List. We make art so people won’t forget,’’ said the actress, who plays a captured passenger in the show and asked not to be identified. The Met Opera focuses on the infamous murder of Lower East Side Jewish resident Leon Klinghoffer, 69. The wheelchair-bound father of [...]

    Read more →
  • Analysis Arts and Culture Beyond ‘Klinghoffer’: Opera’s Composer, Librettist Have Broader Jewish Problem

    Beyond ‘Klinghoffer’: Opera’s Composer, Librettist Have Broader Jewish Problem

    JNS.org – One of the most controversial operas in recent memory, “The Death of Klinghoffer,” debuted Oct. 20 at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. The Met has scheduled seven more performances through November. The first staging did not occur without protest, as about 400 demonstrators—including Jewish communal and nationally recognized leaders—came to Lincoln Center to denounce the anti-Jewish and anti-Israel opera. “Klinghoffer,” the creation of composer John Adams and librettist Alice Goodman, premiered in 1991—with few additional stagings. The opera is based [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Israeli Actress Gal Gadot in Talks to Star in Ben-Hur Remake

    Israeli Actress Gal Gadot in Talks to Star in Ben-Hur Remake

    Israeli actress Gal Gadot is in negotiations to take on the female lead role in the remake of the 1959 classic Ben-Hur, according to The Hollywood Reporter. If the deal is finalized Gadot will play Esther, a slave and Ben-Hur’s love interest. Actor Jack Huston will star as the Jewish prince who is betrayed into slavery by his childhood friend Messala, played by Toby Kebbell. Ben-Hur fights for his freedom and vengeance with the help of Morgan Freeman’s character, who trains Ben-Hur how to win at chariot-racing. [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Young Israelis Try to Crowd-Fund Their Way to Major League Baseball Playoffs

    Young Israelis Try to Crowd-Fund Their Way to Major League Baseball Playoffs

    JNS.org – Baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie are the American dream. So why do two young men who have built their lives in Israel have a GoFundMe crowd-funding webpage with the urgent message that they need $3,000 to travel to the U.S. to watch the Kansas City Royals and Baltimore Orioles square off for Major League Baseball’s (MLB) American League championship? Brothers Naftali and Yoni Schwartz, 27 and 25, respectively, are Kansas City natives. Even though they made aliyah with their [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Sports Race Cars Speed Through Jerusalem in Amazing Exhibition

    Race Cars Speed Through Jerusalem in Amazing Exhibition

    Some 3,000 years ago, King David probably never imagined cars racing at 240 kilometers per hour (150 miles per hour) through the ancient capital of the Jewish people. But on Monday and Tuesday, October 6-7, thousands of Israelis lined the streets to watch Porsche, Audi, and Ferrari race cars fly through the capital against the backdrop of the Tower of David, the Old City Walls, and other city landmarks. The second annual non-competitive Jerusalem Formula One Road Show had been [...]

    Read more →
  • Israel Sports NBA Superstar LeBron James Says He Wants to Visit Israel

    NBA Superstar LeBron James Says He Wants to Visit Israel

    Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James expressed interest in visiting Israel someday, local news site Cleveland.com reported on Sunday. Speaking to Israeli reporters before the Cleveland Cavaliers’ preseason debut against Maccabi Tel Aviv, the NBA star said he had never visited the Jewish state but “I want to look forward to going there if I get an opportunity to.” When asked by an Israeli reporter if there was “any chance that LeBron James and Cleveland comes to Tel Aviv,” the athlete said [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Florida Rabbi Dominates Former Basketball Star Congressman in Hoops Showdown (VIDEO)

    Florida Rabbi Dominates Former Basketball Star Congressman in Hoops Showdown (VIDEO)

    A Florida-based Chabad rabbi put former basketball star, U.S. Congressman Curt Clawson to shame on the court when the two faced off one-on-one recently. A YouTube video, posted online on Tuesday, shows Rabbi Fishel Zaklos of Chabad of Naples shooting hoops with the Florida politician, who played basketball in high school and at Purdue University in Indiana. The game took place in the parking lot of the Chabad Jewish center run by Zaklos. During the 1-minute clip, Zaklos scores two impressive [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.