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Sunday, September 22, 2013
It is generally accepted that the United States of America was founded upon very profound principles, e.g., “That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights . . . .” We have a self-image of valuing the “right,” the “good,” the just cause and acting morally based on our ethics, our theory of the good.
We are a nation that has engaged in many causes that we deem just — a great rebellion to establish the beliefs found in the Declaration of Independence, a great Civil War in part to give freedom to 4 million people, and two world wars to defeat threats to our basic freedoms and our human rights. Thus, believing in the right and doing what is right, to pursue the just cause, is fundamental to our value system as a people.
It is arguable that this value system is being somewhat challenged by the current events in the Middle East. As a result, some in our government desire to involve the United States in the just cause of humanitarianism and to end the use of WMD in the civil war in Syria. The pertinent question is: How does the proposition that we should use our armed forces against Bashar Assad but put “no boots on the ground” in Syria relate to our system of values and our moral conduct in light of those values?
The recent slaughter of more than a thousand civilians in a sarin gas attack has magnified the humanitarian problem and has engendered calls for Western intervention to resolve the conflict in some fashion. The advocates of intervention disagree on the extent of the intervention; some advocate a light bombing raid versus others who seek sufficient destruction of Assad’s assets to bring about regime change. In either case, the interventionists — President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, and many others, all stipulate that there are to be “no boots on the ground.”
Indeed, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a resolution favoring intervention in Syria but implied that there were to be “no boots on the ground.” However, is there not a disconnect between the moral ends of the establishment and what some might call their less than moral means. In other words, do the interventionists have the courage of their convictions?
How serious is our nation and its leadership about rescuing the Syrian people from their calamity when the premise of our help has the caveat — no boots on the ground. In pursuit of this just cause, to save lives, to bring succor to a suffering people — predicated on the application of our values — the United States is willing to invest some of its wealth and goodwill but not much else. In economics, it would be termed weighing the opportunity costs: weighing the benefits derived from a particular action versus its negative costs.
Thus, in the context of the situation in Syria, some in the Washington establishment are willing to expend a little money, time and effort and political capital both at home and abroad, but no lives. That clearly is what the slogan “no boots on the ground” implies. We are not really willing to lose any American lives in the pursuit of this just cause in the cockpit of Syria.
How necessary, effective, successful or consequential our intervention would be is not the issue here. The question for consideration herein is how moral is our policy vis-à-vis Bashar Assad, weapons of mass destruction and the Syrian people? As Americans, our ethic or theory of the good, as expressed by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr., all indicate that we would risk life and limb in protecting and securing those values in defense of the just cause. Being moral is our behavior in the light of our value system that was demonstrated in the Revolution, Civil War and against the Nazis.
How moral are we being if we are not willing to risk American lives in the defense of the sanctity of life, human dignity or human rights in Syria. Intervention in Syria on the cheap sits very well with the president, McCain, Graham and Bill O’Reilly.
If our cause is important enough to justify a war-like intervention, it should also be important enough, if necessary, to accept the sacrifice of American lives. If, however, our cause to protect life and end the use of WMD is not significant enough to risk the sacrifice our own men and women, then maybe we should stay out of the cockpit all together.
Given what our ethics or system of values constitute and given that acting morally is the extent to which we live in accordance with our values, it seem clear that our policy of intervention in Syria but with “no boots on the ground” is immoral and an example of hypocrisy. Thus, the “no boots on the ground” crowd constitutes a group of hypocrites of the highest order.
It is also a question of honesty, in that this crowd should have the courage to argue that if our cause in Syria is just, if it comes to boots on the ground, so be it. Should we not expect more, much more, from our leaders of this, the oldest and most successful democracy in the world?
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