Why Obama Stumbles on Syria

by | Mar 20, 2015 | Foreign Policy

The lack of a principled, moral approach to foreign policy is why Obama has America stumbling around the world actually threatening America's interests rather than our enemies.

An “enemy” is one who seeks to destroy that which you value.  Therefore, to identify an enemy you must first identify your own values.  The question of what one fundamentally values is a moral question. The reason why Obama is stumbling on Syria is that he has no firm moral convictions.  Without moral convictions, he doesn’t know who to befriend or who to attack or why.

Should we consider Islamic radicals to be our enemy? What if Islamic radicals are fighting each other. Should we intervene on one side if the other is using really awful weapons? Why are awful weapons bad? Should we intervene in every war in the world if awful weapons are used? What are the interests of the United States? Should foreign policy decisions even be based on American interests – isn’t that selfish?

These are all moral questions that force our leaders to identify and define that which America values and then to explain the degree to which some specific foreign military force threatens these values.  The practical question of whether our military can prevail is necessary but secondary to the identification of our allies and enemies.

As I have claimed for years on this blog, Obama is essentially a philosophical pragmatist.  He eschews moral absolutes in favor of “action.”  He consistently rails against allowing “ideology” to stand in the way of “action” and urges compromise based on consensus. So if he doesn’t believe in moral absolutes, how does he choose what to do?  He must simply absorb the default values of modern intellectual “experts” which in today’s culture are collectivism and sacrifice.

The nature of his acceptance of these “values” renders his views obvious and unassailable to him.  Why? Anyone who dissents, must have firm or absolute moral convictions.  In his mind, there is no valid argument for firm convictions, so the dissenter must be dismissed as a kook, a “dogmatist,” or an “extremist.”

So why did Obama latch on to Syria?  Doesn’t the fact that he seeks to attack Syria demonstrate that he does have some moral compass guiding his actions?  No, it shows the opposite and proves my point.

Syria is engaged in a civil war between a theocratic dictator and a motley assortment of Islamic militants and tribal factions.  Both sides are America’s enemy!  The fact of one side using awful weapons or barbaric tactics is obscene and tragic but does not affect America or our allies.  The fact that Obama has latched onto the supposed use of chemical weapons by one side demonstrates his lack of moral conviction and consequent inability to ascertain what to do.  He sees chemical weapons, which are awful, and as a pragmatist simply wants to “act” to stop them regardless of the context and regardless of the potential future implications or unintended consequences of his actions.

What distinguishes the American system is the protection of individual rights upon the secular recognition that man requires freedom in order to pursue happiness.  Secular happiness as an end or value is a profound moral principle that brightly illuminates America’s enemies in the world. An objective observer would recognize that the purpose of America’s foreign policy should be to serve America’s interests and that regimes that seek to subjugate individuals to dictatorship are clearly enemies.  However, only regimes that actually seek to attack or threaten America should be considered for defensive military action.  A war of sacrifice on the part of American soldiers and taxpayers without serving some American interest would contradict the entire basis upon which our nation is founded. The lack of a principled, moral approach to foreign policy is why Obama has America stumbling around the world actually threatening America’s interests rather than our enemies.

1 Comment

  1. This is news to me. When did Obama decide to do something in Syria? He’s been criticized over the past few years by conservatives for not doing anything or not enough. This is not a defense of Obama, I’m just asking. I agree with your overall premise that America often times doesn’t act in its own self-interest. I think that this is due to the altruistic tendencies of both conservatives and liberals. In a country that increasingly ignores the rights of its citizens by progressively imposing a welfare state, it’s no wonder America doesn’t understand what its own self-interest is. The fact that we stayed approximately ten years in both Afghanistan and Iraq is ridiculous. We should have done what we needed to do and got out instead of jeopardizing American lives over many years. I thought Bush went into Iraq in order to have American forces on either side of Iran (that is, in Afghanistan
    and Iraq) as Iran is our real enemy. But no, he just wasted American lives in Iraq. If Bush had a strategy, it certainly wasn’t a grand strategy for the region. As far as I can discern, Obama has no strategy.

    One other thing I’ve heard. It’s been said that the division of the Middle East at the end of WWII (this might also apply to WWI) caused the creation of countries along lines that made no sense in terms of the people living there, combining different ethnicities and enemies into one country. I don’t know if some of this had to do with our over-accommodation of the Soviet Union after WWII. If someone knows the history, I would like to hear it. This question is not asked to blame America for what is happening now in the Middle East – I’m just wondering if this was a contributing factor.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Doug Reich blogs at the The Rational Capitalist with commentary, analysis, and links upholding reason, individualism, and capitalism.

SHOW PROFILE

What do you think?

We are always interested in rational feedback and criticism. Feel free to share your thoughts using this form.

We will post responses that we think are of interest to our readers in our Letters section.

Help Capitalism Magazine get the pro-capitalist message out.

With over 10,000 articles readable online Capitalism Magazine is completely free. We rely on the generosity of our readers to keep us going. So if you already donate to us, thank you! And if you don’t, please do consider making a donation today. One-off donations – or better yet, monthly donations – are hugely appreciated. You can find out more here. Thank you!

Related Articles

Israel’s Chief Enemy Is Also Ours

Israel’s Chief Enemy Is Also Ours

Israel, the region’s only free society, faces a virulent movement fighting to eradicate individual freedom and to impose totalitarian rule in the name of Islam — the jihadist cause — and Iran is a leader of that cause.

Voice of Capitalism

Free email weekly newsletter.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest