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.