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Abandon the Syrian civil war? Isolation is never splendid

By Ben Cohen/

Click photo to download. Caption: Wounded civilians arrive at a hospital in<br /> Aleppo during the Syrian civil war. Credit: Voice of America News/Scott Bob<br /> via Wikimedia Commons.

Click photo to download. Caption: Wounded civilians arrive at a hospital in Aleppo during the Syrian civil war. Credit: Voice of America News/Scott Bob via Wikimedia Commons.

Among the handful of
post-war leaders who could always be relied upon to support the United States
unstintingly, the name of Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, stands

Blair wasn’t content to
merely support U.S. foreign policy. He energetically advocated for American
engagement and warned of the negative global consequences of an America in

In April 1999, at the height
of the NATO operation against the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo carried out by
Serbian forces, Blair delivered an historic speech to the Chicago Council on
Foreign Relations, in which he addressed precisely this theme.

“We cannot turn our backs on conflicts
and the violations of human rights in other countries if we want to be secure,”
Blair declared, urging his American hosts to “never fall again for the doctrine
of isolationism.” By spreading “the values of liberty, the rule of law, human
rights and an open society,” Blair insisted, we ourselves would become safer.

I thought of Blair’s stirring words
when I came across an editorial in the latest edition of the liberal Jewish
newspaper, The Forward. Entitled
“Letting Syria Go,” the editorial was candid in contrasting the “lame” American
commitment to the Syrian rebels against the active backing that Bashar
al-Assad’s foul regime has received from its allies in Russia and Iran.

According to the Forward editorial, America’s inaction over the Syrian civil war
reflects “who we are now.” Obama’s “‘leading from behind’ foreign policy
expresses the will of the people,” the editorial stated, because America has
been “traumatized” by the combined experiences of intervention in Afghanistan
and Iraq.

Jane Eisner, the Forward’s editor, told me via email that the editorial “did not
state support for isolationism or interventionism.” Eisner added, “If we accept
what is our de facto isolationism, let’s at least also understand and face up
to the moral implications. And if we intervene, let’s remember what we have
already learned, that such a path is rife with unintended consequences and
costly in blood and treasure.”

If Eisner is correct, and we really are
faced with this profound choice in our foreign policy, then it’s worth
examining the assumptions of those who lean towards isolationism. After all,
this is a loose grouping that spans left-wing Democrats, who falsely suggest
that there is an irreconcilable contradiction between educating our children at
home and defending human rights abroad, and right-wing Republicans, who are
quite content to live, to resurrect a term that was popular in the 19th
century, in “splendid isolation.”

To begin with, not everyone agrees that
Iraq and Afghanistan were traumatic experiences. As Commentary magazine’s Abe Greenwald has pointed out, in both
theaters, America “gained the essential skills for counterinsurgency and
nation-building.” In Afghanistan, our military prowess resulted in the killing
of Osama Bin Laden, as well as the chance for thousands of girls to attend
school, in open defiance of …read more

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Posted by on August 5, 2013. Filed under Breaking News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.