Earlier this week I wrote about the need for American intervention in Syria to prevent further butchering of the Syrian people by its own government. Understandably, there were many readers who bristled at the idea of further involvement in the Middle East and made it clear that they do not want us to be the world's policeman.
Fair enough, but even if the U.S. should not be the world's policeman, it can be the world's conscience.
I. Humanitarian Principles
We are a nation conceived in the principle of liberty and equality for all, and as a principle, it does not just apply to Americans but to all people everywhere. If freedom is truly an inalienable right, then no one on the face of our planet should be deprived of it; whether those people are American citizens or not. In addition, our most iconic symbol -- the Statue of Liberty -- invites the world to give us its tired, its poor, its huddled masses yearning to breathe free. What is that if not a clear expression of our internationalism and affinity with all mankind?
North America may not be joined with the Middle East by land, but Americans are joined with the Syrians through the universal rights to life and liberty. Those rights are being trampled by Assad's regime and so what happens to the Syrians is happening to all of us; and if it is happening to all of us, can we really sit back and do nothing? What good are our lofty ideals if we only apply them when it's easy?
The answers to these questions seem obvious to me, but even if you are someone who feels this is just high-minded rhetoric or are unmoved by the plight of people half a world away, here is a consideration that should move you: self-preservation.
II. National Security
It may be tempting to leave the Middle East to its problems and to let people kill each other if they want to, but unfortunately America is already in the crosshairs of the violent anger in that region, and we cannot be innocent bystanders even if we wanted to be. We are culpable for propping up dictators and playing destructive politics in the Middle East for decades, so do you honestly believe that if we now say we are sorry and leave, it will all go back to normal? Not to mention that if we really did help to create chaos in that region, isn't it our responsibility to help the people there?
This then brings up the question of whether Assad's regime is worse than the alternative of a quasi democratic government with extremist elements in the mix (a la Egypt). I submit that it is, because under the current government there is no hope for peace. Take the case of Libya's Gaddafi, who continued to sponsor terrorism, including the infamous Lockerbie bombing, even while pretending to be our friend. The lesson is that dictators in the Middle East do not provide any real stability for the region or the U.S., only the dangerously deceptive appearance of it, and Assad is no different.
There is also the fact that terrorist networks throughout the globe are linked by a common thread of fanaticism and fury. We have never been involved in the conflict in Chechnya, and yet two young men from that part of the world brought their explosive war to our shores because of an unholy nexus between their freedom struggle and radical Islamist influences. We have nothing to do with their freedom movement but we are hated by the Islamists, so here we are -- mourning the victims in Boston.
Welcome to the new world, where all threats are universal, and where neutrality does not buy safety.
III. Historical Precedent
Finally, I acknowledge that we are badly burned from two failed conflicts, in Iraq and Afghanistan, but I want to point to a different conflict -- one that in hindsight was both necessary and prudent: World War II. Ostensibly, we entered the war because we were attacked, but the reality is that our entry into that conflict was pre-determined the moment Hitler began his march through Europe, and when he started killing Jews by the millions.
The Nazis were a remote threat that could easily have been ignored from a continent away, but our leaders recognized that a regime of sadists was a global threat that could not go unchecked, and so we went to war. It was not a war that we wanted, but it was a war that was inevitable and so we faced it head on; Pearl Harbor merely decided the moment when we would enter it. Moreover, even though we mourned the loss of our soldiers who died in the conflict, we did not let that stop us from doing what we had to.
In the end, America's motives for intervening in Syria, as they were in World War II, might be a mix of humanitarian ideals and selfish agendas, but that does not mean that we should shy away from our responsibility to others or to ourselves. Sitting on the sidelines while a bully beats the pulp out of a smaller kid is not a badge of honor; and backing off from a conflict (that eventually will find its way to us anyway) because we may get hurt is not a philosophy of peace.
SANJAY SANGHOEE is a political and business commentator. He is a banker, has an MBA from Columbia Business School, and is the author of a new thriller entitled "Killing Wall Street". For more information and blogs, please visit his website at www.sanghoee.com