THE BLOG
09/06/2013 02:50 pm ET Updated Nov 06, 2013

Should America Act on Syria?

Americans may not have asked for it but they have it. Few, if any, would trade it for something else. They got it through both the blessings of providence and the bounties of productivity. What is "it"? It is privilege -- the privilege of being arguably the most prosperous, powerful nation on earth.

Such privilege comes with a price, however. The price is the burden of responsibility. Whether she accepts it or not, America finds herself, in many instances, on the road to Jericho where lies the robbed, battered and bruised. In those circumstances, she is left to answer the question: "Should I stop to help this man?"

On a few occasions, she has been the priest or Levite, passing by on the other side, as was the case involving genocide or "acts of genocide" in Rwanda. More often than not, however, America has been the proverbial Good Samaritan turning to the man in need rather than away from him. Each instance is a matter of deep soul-searching as a nation, counting the cost of helping, of intervening.

I imagine that in some of those instances, she has asked, as Martin Luther King, Jr. once alluded to in the case of the sanitation workers in Tennessee: "If we stop to help these people, what will happen to us?" In other instances, she has asked the question: "If we do not stop to help these people, what will happen to them?"

This is the issue confronting America and its leadership today with respect to Syria: What kind of neighbor will it be on the Syrian road? Americans are "war weary" and heavily taxed. We do not know much about the Good Samaritan from the parable but he, too, may have been weary and taxed by the responsibilities he bore. What we do know, however, was that in that instance he could help and he did so. He was even willing to bear the burden of any future obligations imposed by the necessity of restoring his neighbor to health.

I dare not oversimplify what is a complex issue for the American people and their president. Any parable stretched beyond its limits can lead to error. However, this story does draw out some interesting realities about the privilege and burden America faces. That she is a neighbor to the world community is not in doubt. Her sons and daughters have stamped their commitment to good in the world with their blood over many wars, global and regional. That she has the means to help many is also not in doubt.

America remains, despite her present economic challenges, a wealthy nation, with one of, if not, the most powerful military in the world. America is a nation of privilege and responsibility. Over the centuries, she has managed both reasonably well. More than anything, America has shown an awareness of and a willingness to respond to both.

Now it is alleged that President Assad has used chemical weapons on his own people, resulting in the deaths of more than 1,400. Should America act? The answer rests with another question: Is there a neighbor in need and can America help? Syrians were gassed, that is not in doubt. Who gassed them? That is in doubt for some but it seems the Obama administration believes it was Assad. If this is what the administration believes, then America now is walking along the Syrian road. Are the Syrian people in danger of being gassed by their leadership going forward? If a government can use chemical attacks against its own citizens, what will stop it from using those tactics against others? If a government is allowed to gas its people, can the world community, more specifically, the de facto leader of that community, turn a blind eye to such actions?

If the government of Syria gassed Syrians, then Syrian citizens are in danger of future atrocities. If the government of Syria gassed its own citizens, what prevents it from doing so to citizens of other nations, in or out of the region? A government that takes the lives of its own people has breached the most fundamental moral obligation -- respect for life and liberty. In the community of nations, such a country is a threat to peace and good order. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "A threat to justice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere."

Should America act? Yes, in this instance, largely because her president and its administration believe that the Syrian government has committed these atrocities against its people, and as a global leader, a good neighbor in the community of nations and a principal promoter of human rights, it is seems duty bound to do so. It is a tragedy, however, if America must act alone. The United Nations Security Council must be a part of the discussion and the solution. Great Britain, China, France, Germany, Japan and Canada must also ask themselves: "Are the Syrian people in need and should we stop to help them?"

We can play cute with the evidence but in the end, the bodies on the ground were victims of a chemical attack. Did the Syrian government act as though it found this situation reprehensible and take steps to catch those responsible, if not themselves?

On this Syrian road, where lay the robbed and battered, others may walk by, but the reason America is even grappling with whether to do so or not is because she fully appreciates the privilege and burden of her place in the world. It is not a matter of being "The Sheriff" of the world but being a neighbor in it.

The priest and Levite could pass by but not the Good Samaritan. There is something within the very soul of America, within its democratic and cultural traditions, that makes turning a blind eye against her very nature.

Zhivargo Laing is a former finance and economic development minister of The Bahamas. He is now Chief Executive Officer of the Laing Consulting and Research Group which offers business consulting, market research, training and public relations services. A graduate of economics and finance from the University of Western Ontario and Washington DC's George Washington University, this businessman, author and professional motivational speaker lives with his wife and four children in Freeport, Grand Bahama.

Subscribe to the Politics email.
How will Trump’s administration impact you?