During the Vietnam war, I was one of those who held that the United States could not be the policeman of the world, wandering willy-nilly into other country’s internal disputes. Vietnam was the perfect example, though calling it the first war America ever lost does a disservice to all those who fought hard to win it when the cards were stacked against them.
Vietnam has made us gun shy—not a bad thing— but these days, as more and more video comes out of Syria and the horrors become more prevalent and more gruesome, I’m wondering if there’s something we can do so that when the Syrian disgrace ends—if it ever does—we won’t be deemed complicit in one of the most horrific slaughters in history.
I don’t know what else to call it. Yes, it’s a war, but the victims here are not soldiers or even, in most cases, adults involved in the battles. They are children, and they are being killed an orphaned, maimed and mutilated, at a pace that, contrary to popular opinion, has not diminished since ISIS has been contained, but has increased. (ISIS has gone underground, but other insurgent groups have sprung up, setting off explosives in Aleppo and Damascus as proof of their existence.)
Then there’s Turkey which aims to seize to press east and seize Manbij. The problem is that American troops already hold that area. Wouldn’t Putin love to see two NATO members fighting each other? Because this is Assad and Putin in a power struggle not against each other but with each other—an attempt to establish a powerful force in Syria and relegate the United States to some outsider position.
Trump didn’t start this, but he has done nothing to remedy it. And his constant harping on the wall, on America First, on protecting our borders, even the departure from the Climate Accord, has sent strong signals to the rest of the world leaders (i.e., Syria, Russia, China, even Turkey) that we’re kinda too busy to check this out. And at home we become so lost in the shenanigans of the White House that we hardly have time to worry about an estimated 400,000 deaths and 11 million displaced Syrians from their homes, or children suffering from malnutrition, or dying from easily treatable illnesses.
On a particularly violent day this week, a barrage of explosives killed more than 100, at least five of them children who died fetching water. All this the Israeli attack on a Syrian drone ramped up the tensions a bit more.
We may not be able to police the entire world anymore, or to ensure that every country can escape humanitarian tragedies like the one besetting the Syrian people, but the demand that we turn inward and protect ourselves is not a directive anyone expects as American policy. And with the abdication of our moral authority, we no longer impose, even symbolically, the constraints that made other countries think twice before affronting America.