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You Will Hear of Intervention and Rumours of Intervention

July 8, 2013

by J. Andrew Zalucky


(Photo: The New York Times)

It’s not easy to be a neo-conservative these days. Much of the American public has soured on interventionism, especially pre-emptive military action. And, though it doesn’t seem like neo-cons care all that much, the rest of the world is pretty tired of American interventions as well.

There was a time when I agreed with them to a point, mostly from a liberal-interventionist perspective. And there is still a set of very narrow boundaries through which I would support military intervention (humanitarian catastrophe, internationalist support for action, explicit outcry from the population affected, and a clear distinction between victim and perpetrator), at least in theory. But due to recent American military adventures and their corrosive effect on our liberty at home and our reputation abroad, I’ve soured on almost any sort of intervention. We’ve reached a point in our history where we can no longer trust our government to use military force in good faith. Not to mention the strain the last decade or so has put on our men and women in uniform. As The New York Times reported earlier this spring:

Over the course of nearly 12 years and two wars, suicide among active-duty troops has risen steadily, hitting a record of 350 in 2012. That total was twice as many as a decade before and surpassed not only the number of American troops killed in Afghanistan but also the number who died in transportation accidents last year.

And even most conservatives would agree that the might of the military industrial complex has eroded the power of free institutions and risks destroying the constitutional protections they claim to hold dear (or at least spend their careers paying lip service to).

That is…unless you write for The Weekly Standard of course.

Take a recent article from Thomas Donnelly called “Where’s America?”:

The Obama administration’s record in Middle East matters amounts to willful negligence. There is a large, growing, and increasingly violent contest that will determine political future of the most important part of the Muslim world.  Not even the rise of China as a global great power will do more to determine the course of this century.  Indeed, the contest is of great interest to the Chinese and to all of East Asia, which relies – and will for the foreseeable future – heavily on the region’s energy supplies.

At the moment of turning, we are absent without leave. This is a moral, as well as a strategic and political failing, for which we are bound to pay.  Our friends will shun us and think us weak; our adversaries will agree and continue to exploit an opportunity they never expected.

So, following this train of thought, the United States has been too cautious (!?) about its policy in the Middle East? The cynical part of me knows this is the neo-conservative prerogative, to lobby for endless war conducted by the United States. But the rest of me can’t help but be baffled by this, as if the last 12 years was just some really bad dream. With a continued troop presence is Afghanistan (~68,000), bases across the Middle East, carrier groups in the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf, oh- and let’s forget about drones, CIA black sites, and military contractors, I would hardly describe the United States as “absent“.

That’s not to say the writers at The Weekly Standard are completely without wisdom on the subject. They’ve been right to criticize the Obama Administration’s moral posturing and hollow rhetoric calling on Bashar al-Assad to step down. The problem here is the solution they propose: a full-throated American intervention. Always the reliable cheerleader for such an idea, here’s William Kristol in “Losing the Game“:

So the American response to the game-changer has to be itself game-changing, i.e., serious. It’s hard to see what a serious response would be short of direct American engagement—perhaps a combination of enforcement of a no-fly zone and aerial attacks. And no serious president would rule out a few boots on the ground (it’s pretty hard to secure chemical weapons by air).

He then goes on to throw a Winston Churchill quote in our faces at the end, as if to say “yea, that should convince them”.

Convincing? Hardly.

It’s amazing that some of the same people who speak out against “big government” are still the loudest cheerleaders for the one thing that enlarges the power of the state more than anything else: war. When one considers the continued destruction of civil liberties in the US, the damage our policies continue to cause internationally, and the horrifying possibility that some of the Syrian rebels have tried to implement Sharia Law, the last thing the United States needs is another protracted military conflict. As Conor Friedersdorf writes in The Atlantic, “aside from humanitarian relief supplies, the U.S. should stay as far away from Syria as possible.”

If the game here involves a choice between two evils, why even choose to participate?

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