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AN EXAMINATION OF MORAL JUSTIFICATION AND NATIONAL INTEREST 8 Apr. 2017 PDF  | Print |  E-mail

AN EXAMINATION OF MORAL JUSTIFICATION

AND NATIONAL INTEREST

8 Apr. 2017

Dear Friends and Patriots,

 

          The Tomahawk cruise missile strike launched by US destroyers against the al-Shayrat military air field in Syria was widely supported by many on both sides of the aisle in Congress as well as by many allied nations.  All were revolted at the sight of video that showed men, women, and small children dead or writhing in agony after a sarin gas attack, presumably by the Assad regime.  But, it may be worthwhile for President Trump to pause and consider a few things before doing such a thing again.  While it appears the provocation of the gas attack made the missile strike justified, nothing that happens in the Middle East is ever simple.

          When considering such actions by the US military there are several issues that need examination.  They include the assignment of responsibility, the notion of “moral justification,” relationships with allies and non-allies, cost, potential of collateral casualties and damage, unintended consequences, and others.  While all are worthy of extensive examination, I propose to concentrate on the idea of moral justification.

          While the appearance is the government of Syria was responsible for the attack on a village in the Idlib Province, we have to trust that’s the case.   But, it’s also possible that one or more interested party in the region was crossing the Obama Red Line in an attempt to draw the US into action.  Do we actually know?  Who has positive evidence to make an unequivocal case?  Now, it’s a case of “what’s done is done.”  But, sooner or later someone will demand proof.  Parallels to the run-up to war in Iraq are easy to draw.  Did our President shoot first?  Was there sufficient moral justification for the strike, or was our administration duped into an aggressive reaction? 

The main question of this specific incident is, “Where did the sarin come from?”  Was it Syrian, which would lend credence to the “Kerry and Rice lied!” outcry?  Was it released after being hit by a conventional munition, in which case it was on site already; possible originating from stocks that may have been mixed in with CIA facilitated shipments of arms and munitions from Benghazi Libya.  If so, that lends credence to an entirely different assignment of blame.  Then, there’s also the Russians.  Was it their sarin?  Or was it sarin at all?  Was this a false flag operation only intended to sucker Trump into action?   Again, what do we know?

          Our nation was founded on principles that should be foremost in the minds of our leaders whenever committing to a foreign intervention.  Our very first intervention in a foreign land was due to years of provocation by the so-called Barbary Pirates.  For several years after our nation’s founding the government paid “tributes” to the four Barbary Coast nations.  Over the span of time several unsuccessful attempts were made to negotiate treaties to end the unlawful capture of our merchant ships and crews.  The only success was with Morocco.  The other three nations continued their predation, unabated.  Once our naval force was built and manned President Jefferson made the decision to end the long-running game in the Mediterranean.  When it comes to moral justification, the case was clear and unquestioned.

          Our nation’s next foreign military adventure wouldn’t come until 1846, during the term of James K. Polk.  While there were many tangential factors that created conditions for conflict, it was Polk’s adoption of the idea of Manifest Destiny as national policy that was the principle cause.   Suffice it to say Polk was itching for war so the US could lay claim to Mexico’s lands in the American west, which his administration had unsuccessfully tried to purchase.  The end of that war in 1848 effectively created the current outline of the continental United States, “from sea to shining sea.”  It’s no stretch to say our nation’s moral justification in that war was seriously lacking.

          We’ve seen many wars since 1848.  Some had clear justification.  No one questions why WWII was fought, do they?  But, other conflicts were fought despite far less claim to moral justification.  Take the Spanish-American War. We now understand the key precipitating event, the sinking of the battleship MAINE, was not due to Spanish intrigues, but was an unfortunate event used to promote public support for a previously unjustifiable, but eagerly sought military adventure. 

When it comes to moral justification it’s always wisest to pause and be certain. Further, any moral justification should be considered alongside national interest.  It should not stand alone.  No nation should risk human lives purely for the sake of a claimed moral justification.  To do so risks comparisons.   Sometimes those comparisons betray our moral hypocrisy.

The civil war in Syria is a nasty affair.  It’s not hard to conclude the US has unclean hands from the very beginning.   It was US policy missteps in the region that precipitated the so-called Arab Spring movement.  Without dredging up a mountain of dirt, we should all understand the Obama administration’s tacit and material support for the Muslim Brotherhood was a significant factor in events in Syria that evolved into open warfare.  We should question if any moral justification existed for our interferences then, as well as our national interest.  While the Assad regime is a repressive dictatorship and Assad is little but a puppet of the mullahs in Iran, what’s new?  It has been that way for about three decades.  What made the US all of a sudden decide something needed to change?  Is our current spate of moral justification founded in guilt?

America is known as “the land of the free,” but our freedom didn’t come on the cheap.  We fought a war to gain it.  Our forefathers risked their lives and fortunes to guarantee our current existence as the example of freedom to the rest of the world.  Some might say the answer to the civil war in Syria needs to be determined by Syrians, not by outsiders. 

Some may also say the history of the last century in the region is one that exemplifies exactly why we should stay out.  Everything western powers have done in the Middle and Near East since the end of WWI has resulted in conflict, death, destruction, political instability, and misery for the native populations.  No grand plan or strategy of the western powers has ever proved viable.  And, yet, we are still involved there; still mucking around like geopolitical oafs.  Two questions come to mind in this regard:  why do we do it, and what are the alternatives?

If one examines the historic timeline it’s easy to conclude our involvement in the region, which is true for all western powers, was always about oil.  It was never a desire for the well-being of the populace.  Let’s be real about that.  But, today we’ve proven the US is once again the preeminent nation when it comes to energy resources, so we don’t actually need Middle Eastern oil.  With our former dependency resolved, what is our national interest now?  It’s not the safety of Israel.  We haven’t been in the region all these years for the sake of Israel.  That nation didn’t exist before 1947, but we were active in the region since 1920.  So, I ask again, what is our compelling national interest that’s so important we would engage in war in the region?

The alternatives are easy to figure.  We should encourage Western Europe to adopt policies within their own nations to guarantee their own energy independence so they can’t claim justification in their own interference.  We should largely withdraw from the region and let the native population determine their own fate.  Perhaps it would be proper for us to deal with ISIS before withdrawing, but we need to leave.  One thing we should understand is any outcome imposed on the nations of the region by us and our allies will only make things worse.  We might participate as facilitators in peace processes, but not in anything that would lead to more conflict.

The notion that western nations can impose peace on the region is entirely false.  Peace must be sought by those who are warring.  If they don’t seek it, any imposed peace can only be temporary.   Unless we want to stay in the region forever as peacekeepers, we need to learn the truth.  An imposed peace might be used as pretext to push all the Syrian refugees out of their current host nations, but what exactly would we expect to happen next?  My own thought is the situation would only be exacerbated.  If Syrians could create their own acceptable resolution all kinds of problems could be avoided.

There’s a comparison I want to bring into the discussion; one that may not be very welcome, but it comes immediately to mind.   It’s part of that national interest thing.  Just ask yourself if the US has interests in Syria that are greater than those in Mexico?  Yes, Mexico, our southern next door neighbor.  Aren’t they more important to us?  Aren’t they our country’s third largest trading partner?  If Syria is a trading partner of any significance to us, I’ve never heard of it.  And, yet, our government seems to find a compelling national interest to intercede in Syria where it has steadfastly refused to do it in Mexico.  What’s up with that?

I’m obviously talking about the situation in Mexico involving the drug cartels that have operated with impunity across the northern Mexican states for well over 20 years.  They operate with tactics exactly like those of ISIS, even to mass beheadings, burning captives alive, kidnappings, and all manner of torture.  If our government wants to find a legitimate case for moral justification and national interest for military action, why go halfway around the world to claim it?  We only need to look across the Rio Grande River.

We all understand the Mexican government has been waging a long-running war against the cartels.  Sometimes it seems they have the upper hand, though most times they don’t.  The cartels even run the federal prisons in northern Mexico.  It’s not a civil war as in Syria; it’s a war between a federal government and the most violent criminal organizations on Earth.  It’s a war that involves the US directly.  After all, the whole reason the cartels exist is to control the drug trade between purveyors and manufacturers to our south and users within our own borders.  Isn’t our national interest clear?  Isn’t our moral justification clear?  Yet, instead of taking action to put a stop to the violence and criminality just across our southern border we talk of building a wall and we find moral justification to bomb an airfield halfway around the world.

I could be wrong, but I think the whole notion of moral justification and national interest needs some major attention.   We’re doing the same thing we always did during the Obama administration.  We watched the left hand and ignored the right.  In still doing so we continue to fool only ourselves.  We have lost all perspective regarding proper justifications for our government’s actions. 

If President Trump is serious about his rhetoric of “America First” he should ignore the internationalists in his inner circle and understand the most immediate threat to our nation is not in Syria, where we can’t even figure out who pulls what string, but to our south.  It’s not the illegal aliens, either.   They’re an economic and legal issue, but their importance when the consideration of moral justification and national interest is concerned pales when compared to the reality of Mexican drug cartels.

I understand the actions taken by Donald Trump are generally viewed in a positive light.  He’s obviously willing to show some US muscle in foreign policy.  But, perhaps he would do better to show that muscle in a different place; a place where our national interests aren’t quite so obscure.

 

In Liberty,
Steve