“At town hall meetings in their districts, the congressman reports, House Republicans are hearing ‘an isolationist message.’ It’s not America’s war. The evidence that the Assad regime used chemical weapons is ambiguous, maybe cooked. There isn’t a compelling national interest to intervene. ‘Let Allah sort it out.’ We’d be coming in on the side of al Qaeda. The strike serves symbolic, not strategic, purposes. There’s no endgame. It would be another Iraq.” — Bret Stephens, The Wall Street Journal September 3, 2013
The charge of isolationism is never meant as a compliment. It carries with it an assumption that America has a duty to throw its military power against the enemies of peace around the world, and that we fail in our global responsibilities if we turn our backs on peace-loving people in their time of need.
In the run-up to America’s entry into what became World War II, there were significant numbers of Americans, including their leaders, who were loath to pay the price in blood and treasure that would be required to stop Hitler. They were not wrong about what American involvement would cost, but they were wrong to fail to imagine the awful consequences for the entire world if Hitler and Tojo were given free rein.
But it is not isolationism to recognize the limits of military power, nor to think that lobbing cruise missiles into the middle of Syria’s civil war is a desperate strategy with little hope of deterring the murderous ambitions of Bashar Assad, and every likelihood of inflicting even greater suffering on the very civilians we would be attempting to help… by raining high explosives down on their heads.
After the rubble stops bouncing, America will be rightly blamed for killing innocent people, and America will be blamed for not doing enough to stop Assad, who will wait out the attacks in safety and resume with even greater fury once the missiles stop flying.
If I am walking down the street and see a woman being attacked by a man, I have a moral duty to come to her aid. If I ignore her screams and walk away, I am an isolationist, and worse.
But let’s say I have a gun. I tell the mugger that he has crossed a red line. I shoot a bystander across the street and then sternly warn the mugger that I mean business. To oppose such a ridiculous plan isn’t isolationism, it’s just good sense. With great power comes great responsibility, to use that power wisely and effectively.
The killing of innocent Syrians is abhorrent, whether by poison gas or bullets. Bashar Assad must be stopped, and the countries who are supporting his regime — Iran and Russia, primarily — must be made to pay a price for their support of this murderer. But the current plan being pushed by the Obama administration is reckless and will be ineffective. It’s not isolationism to point that out.