Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Syria, Credibility, and Armchair Isolationism

Who is this imposter who has the gall to call himself “John Kerry?” The real John Kerry is an intelligent liberal, indeed something of a hero for having the courage to not only vigorously oppose the Vietnam War—the last U.S. war fought in the name of “credibility”-- but to openly charge that the U.S. was committing “war crimes” there. Surely this can’t be the same fellow who is not only leading the charge for the U.S. to plunge into yet another unnecessary and unwise war, but whose rhetoric is increasingly bizarre.

Fear that if we don’t go to war in Syria, we will lose our “credibility?“ Credibility to do what: stupidly intervene in yet another civil war in a country of trivial importance, in which we not only do not have “vital interests” at stake, but in which, if we had, we wouldn’t know which side to support, and in which we have no idea whether our intervention will save innocent lives or put them still further into danger?

If that wasn’t bad enough, now “John Kerry” accuses opponents of an attack on Syria as advocating “armchair isolationism.” What? First of all, to oppose the war in Syria does not make one “isolationist,” or even “anti-war,” as opposed to opposing this specific war. The opposite of “isolationism” usually is defined as “internationalism.” By such reasoning, then, this must mean that “internationalists” favor going to war with everyone.

Moreover, in fact the United States would greatly benefit by a healthy dose of isolationism to at least partly balance what ought to be called “mindless interventionism.” After all, the problem with U.S. foreign policy since the end of WWII, and even more so since the end of the Cold War, has not exactly been a refusal to get into foreign wars.

Finally, the very concept of an “armchair isolationist” is incoherent. Apparently Kerry has confused the term with that of the common one, “armchair warrior.” That is a coherent and, indeed, powerful concept—it refers, of course, to someone who wants other people to go to war while he sits safely at home. Now try making sense of “armchair isolationism.”


Larry May said...

Professor Slater,
While I agree with all you wrote, how do you answer those on the right and left who argue that doing nothing after Obama's "red-line" comments sends a message of U.S. weakness to Iran, Russia and most critically Al Queda?

Jerome Slater said...

It doesn't send a message of weakness to those who might take action that genuinely threatened U.S. national security. Suppose Obama just said, in straightforward fashion, that he made a grave error in committing the U.S. to intervene in Syria if chemical weapons were used, so he has decided that the arguments against intervention are much stronger than those in favor. Is it likely, say, that al-Qaeda would conclude that they could now attack the US with impunity?

They are certainly fanatics, but there's no reason to think they are really, really stupid.

Still, I suppose it might be the case that Iran might conclude that Obama's strongly implied commitment to attack Iran if it develops nuclear weapons could also safely be ignored. However, that was an even stupider commitment on Obama's part, and he SHOULD backtrack on it.

Anyway, it is equally likely that if Obama backed away from attacking Syria, it would make it even more likely that he wouldn't do so in the case of Iran. At any rate, that is how the Iranians should think of it.