Two great pieces arguing against intervention in Syria but with slightly different takes on how President Obama has performed in the midst of it all:
George Will thinks Obama is right on Syria – but right in the sense of not ultimately being willing to back up the red line talk.
Damon Linker argues that Syria may be Obama’s biggest foreign policy blunder and that the U.S. needs – indeed, is duty bound – to follow a self-interested policy.
I think Linker’s is better because it provides a much broader perspective on whether states have moral duties to intervene that would be analogous to individual duties to help. He doesn’t think that the analogy holds. Here is my favorite part of Linker’s column that is straight out of the American liberal realist playbook stretching back to Washington and J.Q. Adams:
The primary duty of the nation’s commander in chief — the duty that overrides all others — is to uphold the common good of the United States and protect the rights of individual American citizens. If that sounds selfish, that’s because it is. And rightly so. The president’s duty is to us. He can have no duty to the citizens of another nation. That’s why the greatest acts of statesmanship will always be more self-interested than the highest acts of individual virtue.
In keeping the United States out of the Syrian conflict for the past two years, Obama has showed that he understands this. But in laying down his now-transgressed “red line” on chemical weapons, he showed that he doesn’t understand it well enough. It’s as if the president wants to have it both ways: to be a tough-minded realist who puts American interests first, but also to become an idealistic do-gooder (who, like all presidents, salves his conscience by ordering other people — the nation’s soldiers — to sacrifice themselves) once a certain line has been crossed. And Assad has called Obama’s bluff.
And I particularly like the parenthetical since too often the history books that praise presidents for their statesmanship and character forget that it is other people who have to fight, suffer, and even die to make good on the easy promises and claims of moral duty that leap forth so easily from their mouths and alleged hearts.