Jul 29, 2014
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Give us your tired...

According to some, the United States should lead or at a minimum participate in an international military coalition against the Assad government in Syria, or on behalf of the rebels fighting that government, or both, for humanitarian reasons. Many of the same people believe the United States should intervene militarily in Syria regardless of what any other country does, and for the same humanitarian end.

I think it's fair to say that regardless of the mission, or the means used to accomplish it, a whole lot of innocent Syrian men, women, and children are going to die if the United States government employs any measure of its military power against the Syrian government. 

Those who push for a humanitarian mission to Syria would no doubt argue that innocent people are already dying.

The difference is that it's not our government killing them -- not yet, at least. And no terrorist, to my knowledge, has ever stated that he was mad at our government because it didn't do enough for people in the Middle East.

Many people over there  are quite mad, however, that our government topples governments and props up repressive and murderous regimes; drops bombs on their cities, particularly their water and sanitation infrastructure, leading to hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths; imposes economic sanctions that punish millions; keeps lots of soldiers in their country,  terrorizes and incinerates people with Drone attacksshoots people in their homes and streets -- those sorts of things. Seems to me those people could use a break from our government's "help".

Nor are Americans responsible by default to care for the world's downtrodden and oppressed; just because there's a crisis somewhere doesn't mean our government is morally bound to intervene, on anyone's behalf.

In fact, the Framers of our government cautioned against foreign entanglements, warning that among other things they lead to debt and an over-powerful chief executive -- issues of concern to a few people today.

The authority to wage war was vested in the Congress, not the President, so that it "would not be in the power of a single man" but rather in the "legislature at large", as James Wilson of Pennsylvania put it, to make so momentous and potentially calamitous a decision. It was a highly regarded opinion at the time that war was dangerous to liberty and stability.

What they knew then is still true today: War should be used only as a last resort and when absolutely necessary to defend the rights of US citizens and residents from foreign attack.

A potential solution to humanitarian crises was offered by John Quincy Adams, sixth president of the United States (1825 - 1829). In an 1821 Independence Day speech, targeted specifically at those calling for American intervention on behalf of revolutionary movements in South America, he said the United States "goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy", lest our government "become the dictatress of the world." He praised our country for having "respected the independence of other nations, while asserting and maintaining her own. She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when the conflict has been for principles to which she clings."

Rather, he urged that "Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be" -- but not invasions, or air strikes, or even aid to opposition groups that can turn out to be worse than the government opposed:

"She will recommend the general cause, by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example."

In other words, instead of interfering in foreign affairs it was America's destiny to stand as a shining beacon of freedom and justice in the world. However flawed that worked out in practice, there is no doubt that millions of people, from every hell hole on earth, have left everything behind in their home country to start a new life in this country because they thought it was true. And it was, for a whole lot of them.

In that spirit, I have a counter offer to those who would drop bombs in the name of humanitarianism. (Actually my wife came up with this idea, so blame her. I'm just writing it down):

Amass a fleet of private boats and sail to the Mediterranean under a flag of peace. Stop twelve miles off the coast of Syria -- still in international waters -- and offer comfort to anyone who can reach you. (People regularly float five times that distance on improvised rafts to get from Cuba to Florida.) Return these refugees to the United States, where they can seek the protection of the United States of America and begin to build a better life for themselves here.

I'll be the first to sing your praises; I'd even consider going on such a trip myself. That would truly be a Peace Prize-worthy moment. It's hard to imagine a greater act of kindness and charity.

Who would stop this -- or any other mass movement of its kind to save people from a humanitarian crisis? Perhaps the same government that you believe can best help people by bombing their country?


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