Point of View Columns

Playing with Fire (Part II)

It appears that, for the moment, the Obama Administration has avoided the potential twin disasters of involving this country in yet another war-not-war in the Arab-Muslim world while simultaneously being repudiated by a majority of the people who voted for President Obama in 2012. In a scene straight out of “The Perils of Pauline”, none other than Vladimir Putin stepped in and put forward a proposal to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. Fortunately, the Obama Administration put a leash on its military dog and agreed to stand down.

We will now witness a series of diplomatic and political maneuverings that may or may not result in the destruction of Syria’s weapons of mass destruction. In the meantime we cautiously hope that President Obama will not come to the conclusion that he has to declare another “red line” as justification for this country committing unilateral acts of war.

While we can slowly exhale as this country grudgingly retreats from the brink of yet another war without end, we should take a moment to determine how this dilemma came about. We have been told that somehow, after the death of over 100,000 Syrians, the use of chemical weapons finally made this multi-year massacre too horrible. The fact that the United Nations had not as yet come to this conclusion was brushed aside with talk of the “moral imperative” that makes this country “exceptional”.

It is always dangerous to believe in any person or any country being infallible. It is also dangerous for the President of the United States to seriously believe that the unilateral use of military force is justifiable even when the security of this country is not directly (or indirectly threatened). And it is definitely dangerous for us to believe that we won’t find this country slip sliding to another blood soaked precipice under this president or a future president, unless and until the people of this country start to rethink this whole business of “exceptionalism”.

Historically speaking there are certainly “exceptional” aspects pertaining to the establishment of representative government, however flawed that government was at the outset, even to this day. But there is nothing particularly exceptional about countenancing the slavery of black Americans.

And there is nothing noteworthy about a governmental policy of genocide committed against Native Americans or denying suffrage to women for over a century or a legalized apartheid system that succeeded slavery and whose vestiges remain to this day. And there is certainly nothing “exceptional” about a country that acknowledges incredible economic and quality of life disparities as the “American Way”.

This country is made up of many good people who desire a just and fair society – however that may be defined. But the people of this country have an “exceptional” capacity for believing that unilateral American military action makes sense to the rest of the world. And Americans have the further “exceptional” capacity for believing that any retaliation is unjust, unwarranted and deserving of further retaliation. Of course, this is exactly how wars have been started since the beginning of time.

The United States of America should not be branded as either the Policeman of the Planet or the Global Bully. There is no reason for this country to undertake the Sisyphean task of ridding this world of cruelty and injustice by itself. Aside from the fact that it is virtually impossible to tell the “good guys” from the “bad guys” in Syria or elsewhere, there are also legions of lobbyists and professional persuaders who will advance one cause or another based upon fees that are paid for their services.

Engaging in a bit of alternative history one wonders on whose side these United States would intervene in a war between its ally England and the colonist terrorists of America? And who would these United States support in a protracted civil war between the Confederacy that was committed to self-determination and the economically and militarily superior Union? Perhaps a negotiated settlement would have been preferable?

The point is, of course, that the world is complicated. Its problems are vexing. And solutions rarely come out of the barrel of a gun or at the tip of a Tomahawk missile.

We can hope that President Obama, and future presidents, have learned a lesson as this country has hopefully averted another potentially bloody disaster.

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