I am a firm believer in American Exceptionalism. The idea that America is unique among all the nations of the Earth for a variety of reasons. Among these is a foundation of moral principles and ideals instead of the otherwise universal “blood and soil” that creates national identities. The destruction of a Syrian air field last night however illustrates another important thing that makes America so unique. It is the only nation to have ever been the sole hegemon of the international order in an era in which the whole world is openly aware and in contact with every other part of the world.
So lets dissect a few things here starting with the reality of that alpha dog status. There will be people all over the spectrum denying this as untrue. There will be people all over the spectrum saying that we shouldn’t have this status for any of a million reasons. These people all ignore the fact that it is still the reality of the international order. By virtue of winning the cold war, and the spreading at least in principle if not practice of enlightenment government concepts to the entire world, we as the guiding light of these principles and the last remaining super power became the guarantor of these ideals.
Being founded on these ideals and then being responsible for their propagation through out the world makes us as a nation responsible for them. This is more and more perceived as a bad thing. It shouldn’t be. I believe that it was Madison who told us that we should be the friend of Liberty but not it’s custodian. It is a tricky thing to draw the line here but at a certain point I think we can all acknowledge that one of the responsibilities of a friend, especially a strong friend is to defend one’s weaker friends. With this in mind then, perhaps it is possible to defend them without becoming responsible for them.
This leads me to the specific commentary of this post, the missile strike on a Syrian air base last evening. Many cry out that it was entirely justified. Many cry out that they are tired of war and want no involvement in the Syrian affair. I think it is entirely possible that both view points are correct, and that is why the strike as it was conducted was the best course of action. We disabled their ability to further conduct these heinous chemical assaults. We took away a villain’s ability to do more genocidal harm without assuming the direct responsibility of saving these people. Make no mistake, it was justified.One of the components of justice is avenging the evil done unto people who can not defend themselves. In fact for justice to be served perhaps even more should have been done. This however is where the second group is right, anything more than these targeted disabling strikes could have provoked them into a folly that we could not help but answer.
War is not desirable and it will rarely if ever be so, but in at least this instance the only thing that has been expended was money, and if that is all that we have properly sacrificed to save innocent lives then we should consider ourselves fortunate. There is no war, not yet though maybe one to come. For now though, we are at peace. We have enabled the safety of innocents. We have sent a strong message to the Russians, and to Assad the Syrian despot. Provided we don’t treat this as a defeat. Provided we choose not excoriate ourselves for things beyond our control. Provided we remember to do good where and when we can. Then for now, and maybe just this once, we can have some foreign policy/ humanitarian cake and eat it too.