Since World War Two there seems to have been as good a blur between the lines of diplomacy and warfare as has ever existed. There have been numerous “low intensity conflicts”, widespread terrorism (much of it state sponsored), and recurring saber rattling. Sometimes, actual Acts of War have been committed, and the offended party has failed to respond, usually out of fear of the damage and consequences of a real war. Few want a “Real War”. By “Real War” I mean the modern version of a World War or the American Civil War.
Most wars, including the big “Real” ones, are started due to diplomatic and military miscalculation and lack of clear and level thinking. Even the little ones are the result of this. It is important to have clear and reasonably achievable objectives to both your diplomacy and to your use of military force (which, as Clausewitz correctly stated, is an extension of diplomacy). America’s interventions in Vietnam and more recently Iraq were doomed because the objectives were either unclear (Vietnam) or not reasonable (turning Iraq into a democracy).
American foreign policy (its diplomatic strategy) has had serious problems since the end of the Cold War. The objectives remain rather fuzzy and often unachievable even if they are clear. One such objective seems to be the American desire to protect everyone, everywhere, from bad things. “Bad Things” have included genocide, famine, terror, and repression. America has in many ways attempted to be the world’s policeman, although what it polices and how it carries this out changes from administration to administration. The most recent issue is that of the use of poison gas by the Syrian government.
Any country’s main objective should always be the protection of itself and its citizens, territory, and commerce. These are clear and reasonable objectives. A country can quickly get caught up in quagmires when it moves beyond these to unclear or unreasonable objective, and that can easily happen when it decides to intervene due to “Bad Things” happening somewhere.
“Bad Things” happen on a frequent basis in the world. Pol Pot killed millions (as did other dictators like Stalin and Mao). Famine is frequent, and often caused by civil wars. Terrorism and Anarchy also regularly occur. Some countries even use “bad weapons” in civil wars.
So when should a country intervene, especially militarily? If it is not to protect its citizens, territory, and/or its commerce, it probably shouldn’t. Getting involved militarily in somebody else’s civil war is, and always has been, a recipe for international and internal disaster. I feel sorry for foreign civilians who are subjected to famine, torture, poison gas, and so on, but do I think that we should go to war to try and stop such things? The answer is no. Acts of War committed by one country against another are different, that IS the RED LINE, and does call for military action.
A grey area is actively working to prevent others from similarly intervening. Peoples do have a right to self determination and self defense against repression. Those oppressing them should not be allowed to bring in outsiders to do so.
The other grey area is supporting uprisings. When people rise up against oppression and denial of their right to self determination, I believe that we can aid and assist such people. But we should NOT do so with our own forces.
What to Do
We should not be going to war, or even putting ourselves on track to do so, because some dictator is committing atrocities against his own people. We should help those people however we can, but NOT through direct military action.
The mess in Syria is far greater than it should be because the United States allowed,under the Obama administration, Foreign Powers, namely Russia and Iran, to directly intervene. This could have been prevented, but was not.
I cannot believe that getting into a direct confrontation with the Russians over Syrian chemical weapon use is a wise course of action at this point. Do we really want to risk a “Real War” over this? I certainly don’t. I feel bad for the Syrian civilians, but I am not going to risk my life or my family’s lives over them.