Amid Iraq fatigue, 8 ways Obama must do better in Syria

8 Steps to clearer thinking about Syria Photo: public doman

TRENTON, September 4, 2013 – Now more than ever, America needs a framework for making sense of her role in the world.

Why war?


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“War,” Chesterton noted, “is not the best way of settling differences; it is the only way of preventing their being settled for you.”

Humankind’s choice is not between war and no war. The choice is between war as a last resort, fought for just objectives, fought only as much, until, and proportional to achieve those objectives, and which observes the laws of war, or war that observes none of those rules.

Following hard pacifism would consign human fate to those bent only on the second kind of war: unprincipled, avaricious, and ignoble; and removes humanity’s ability to wage just war to save itself.

The trite slogan “there’s no just war; there’s just war” is a case of microwave morality, which fails to understand moral judgments cannot be made in a vacuum, but only in light of the available alternatives.


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State sovereignty

To say that sovereignty should be respected except when violated by a peoples’ own government is an inconsistency. The only morally consistent position is that sovereignty, once violated internally, may be restored externally. This is why international law converged, a century late, on the precept ensconced in America’s founding documents: popular sovereignty.

“The people, not governments, are sovereign,” noted Ambassador Tom Pickering. People are born free and independent, possessing rights of an inviolable nature, endowed so by divinity. There are no sovereign states. No sovereign governments. There are only sovereign people. Governments may only reflect the sovereign will of their people.

Why is it anybody else’s business what’s happens in Syria?


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If the Syrian people have human rights, it follows necessarily that they have remedies, because there are no rights without remedies. It follows further, as international law scholar W. Michael Reisman has written, that “prohibiting the unilateral vindication of clear violations of rights when multilateral possibilities do not obtain is [effectively] to terminate those rights.” Thus, the view that Syrian men, women, and children have human rights, but the world is powerless to enforce them, is a contradiction.

Isn’t this imposing Western values on other people?

The flaw of this hard relativism is illustrated by Sir Charles Napier. Told by 19th Century Indian priests that sati—whereby widows were burned on their husband’s pyres—was part of their culture, Napier responded:

“We [British] also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.”

A world that takes “respect all cultures” to its logical conclusion, necessarily ends up with neither respect, nor culture.

Why us?

What passes for “international law” consists of rules which no one can enforce except to not be friends with each other, making international law tantamount to a real-life dramatization of Mean Girls, only older, greyer, and wearing suits.

Debates about whether America can be the “policeman of the world,” are nearly a century late and a few army battalions short. The U.S. manifestly is the police of the world, and has been since this nation rebuilt Europe after WWII.

America is the global police for one simple reason: because no one else is. If you’d prefer some other nation, consider the alternatives.

Doesn’t America already spend too much on the military/war?

Defense is not war. The defense budget includes billions in scientific, medical, technological, aerospace, and energy research that has wide-reaching applications beyond the military. The Internet, GPS, digital photography, and air traffic control were all, or in significant part, military inventions.

Ron Paul famously decries that America has forces in more than 100 countries on earth. But it’s only because the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps patrol the world’s land, ocean, and sky, that food, water, and medicine can be airlifted — in minutes — to devastated peoples the world over after mudslides (Taiwan), famine (Ethiopia), tsunamis (Southeast Asia), and hurricanes (Haiti).

This explains the folly of a second complaint: “America’s defense budget is more than the next ten nations combined.” There are more than a dozen nations on earth with no standing militaries whatsoever, and Europe is allowed small militaries precisely because we have a large one (see “The Continent without a Military”). Our military is their military.

Europe knows this. European leaders while railing against an “imperial” U.S., privately confide to American diplomats this so-called “imperialism” makes thier continent possible.

Indeed, America makes much of the world possible.

What’s the strategy in Syria?

Surely it ought not be President Obama’s. The surest thing that limited strikes will achieve is more limited strikes. Obama should heed the Napoleon dictum, “If you start to take Vienna, take Vienna.”

If Assad is guilty of “war crimes,” as the Obama Administration has charged, and if Assad “must go,” as Mr. Obama has asserted, then regime change is the only morally coherent policy.

Don’t the lessons of the Cold War argue against arming the rebels?

Not really.

In the lead-up to Iraq many on the Left mused:

Q: How do we know that Iraq definitely has WMDs?
A: Because we kept the receipts.

Point being: the same people christened “freedom fighters” one decade may be designated “terrorists” the next.

But, so what?

In international relations, friendships are fungible. No nation has permanent friends, nor permanent enemies, only permanent interests. As the U.S. allied with the Soviets to defeat Hitler and liberate Europe, but allied against the Soviets to defeat Communism and save the world, statesmanship consists in understanding when an alliance has outlived its usefulness and should be ended.

Only those who understand America’s unique position of power, and strategic use of it, are fit to lead in these times.


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Charles Badger

Charles Badger has been a columnist for The Washington Times Communities section since 2013. He is a Republican political strategist, speechwriter, and former aide to a Member of Congress, currently working in disaster relief logistics & communications. He holds a B.A. in Philosophy from Berea College.

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