Wednesday, October 19, 2016
It's fiction to pretend that the most powerful nation can ever be truly "neutral" in foreign conflicts.
By Shadi Hamid
The eight years of the Obama presidency have offered us a natural experiment of sorts. Not all U.S. presidents are similar on foreign policy, and not all (or any) U.S. presidents are quite like Barack Obama. After two terms of George W. Bush's aggressive militarism, we have had the opportunity to watch whether attitudes toward the U.S. -- and U.S. military force -- would change, if circumstances changed.
President Obama shared at least some of the assumptions of both the hard Left and foreign-policy realists, that the use of direct U.S. military force abroad, even with the best of intentions, often does more harm then good. Better, then, to "do no harm."
This has been Barack Obama's position on the Syrian Civil War, the key foreign-policy debate of our time.
The president's discomfort with military action against the Syrian regime seems deep and instinctual and oblivious to changing facts on the ground. When the debate over intervention began, around 5,000 Syrians had been killed. Now it's close to 500,000.
Yet, Obama's basic orientation toward the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has remained unchanged. This suggests that Obama, like many others who oppose U.S. intervention against Assad, is doing so on "principled" or, to put it differently, ideological grounds.
The Left has always had a utopian bent, believing that life, not just for Americans, but for millions abroad, can be made better through human agency (rather than, say, simply hoping that the market will self-correct).
The problem, though, is that the better, more just world that so many hope for is simply impossible without the use of American military force. At first blush, such a claim might seem self-evidently absurd. Haven't we all seen what happened in Iraq? The 2003 Iraq invasion was one of the worst strategic blunders in the history of U.S. foreign policy.
Yet, it's not clear what exactly this has to do with the Syrian conflict, which is almost the inverse of the Iraq war. In Iraq, civil war happened after the U.S. invasion.
In Syria, civil war broke out in the absence of U.S. intervention.
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