With everything going on at home, it’s hard to keep track of things going on overseas. We try remembering the civil war in Syria, but with the IRS, NSA, Edward Snowden, immigration reform and other issues, it gets lost in the shuffle. However, there are still calls for Barack Obama to do something more in Syria. Everyone wants a resolution, in some way, shape or form. But, if you are looking for Obama to make a decision to directly interfere with U.S. forces, you are going to end up feeling let down (I know, that’s a completely new feeling for all of you, right?).
You see, Obama has the same problem here he had with Afghanistan after his election, and he is going about it virtually the same way. Back then, he campaigned on ending the war there, but 94 days into his “internal discussion,” he played both ends against the middle. He sent in more troops to appease the professional military leadership while simultaneously giving a withdrawal date. It sent confusing signals to us and to the world.
But that is the problem with the Jeffersonian Barack Obama. You see, under the ideology of Thomas Jefferson, the United States needs to minimize foreign entanglements, and it’s an ideology carried on by the far left. His treatment of Afghanistan followed Richard Nixon’s treatment of Vietnam. The idea was to reduce costs and risks in the wars currently being fought by U.S. forces. However, what he did not take into account (and, to be fair, it is hard to predict these kind of situations) was the chance of a war starting and the U.S. at risk of having to go in.
It’s almost a bit naive, to be sure, that a president might not see a volatile region exploding into drawn-out conflict, especially given two U.S. wars in that area, a revolution in one Islamic state and NATO intervention in another. In peaceful, Jeffersonian form, he had thought going to nations like these and offering American humility might curtail such conflict until such a time that another president can come in to deal with the mess. He had toned down support for Israel. He had withdrawn U.S. armaments from the Russian border.
His goal was less chaotic world, but his policies have created anything but that. While I do not at all think the U.S. should be a global police force, withdrawn presence around the world creates a vacuum in which smaller, localized powers begin to stir and try to take a larger piece of the world pie. Asking Egypt’s leader, Hosni Mubarak, to step down in the midst of a revolution, aiding rebels we had little-to-no knowledge of and helping (albeit from behind) overthrow Muammar Gaddafi increased the instability of the region, a side effect the president was not looking for.
So, when he issued his “red line,” there was no force of authority behind it. Everything he had done up to that point indicated he was for less action abroad, not more. Syria, back by Russian and Iran, used chemical weapons on the rebel forces (who had also just recently lost key sites like Qusair and Hoth). The U.S. response? Send some guns. There is nothing in the administration that indicates any will to get caught up in another conflict.
But such is the way of a Jeffersonian foreign policy. It’s a school of thought that, like Obama’s liberal domestic tendencies, has a feel-good nature to it, but ultimately lacks in any serious practicality. In a somewhat funny twist, it is because the Jeffersonian policies don’t work that his domestic policies face such strenuous opposition now. What Obama hoped for was a quiet world to do his work in. What he got was a lot more chaos than he had bargained for, and as a result, his attention is divided. Unfortunately, we cannot take solace in that, because a weakened presence on the global stage means that other major powers, like Russia and China, have time to act proactively, rather than in reaction to American movements.
Ultimately, what Obama failed to realize (which even Jefferson realized) was that America, like it or not, is a major, global player. It cannot be just another seat at the table.
Want more profound thoughts? Sorry, I just have this blog and my Twitter account, @joec_esquire.