I cannot see why even a single American, a single Israeli or a single Syrian civilian should be killed as a result of a token U.S. military action, undertaken simply to spare Barack Obama the embarrassment of doing nothing, after his ill-advised public ultimatum to the Syrian government to not use chemical weapons was ignored.
Some people say that some military response is necessary, not to spare Obama a personal humiliation, but to spare the American presidency from losing all credibility — and therefore losing the ability to deter future threats to the United States without bloodshed.
There is no question that the credibility of the presidency — regardless of who holds that office — is a major asset of this country. Another way of saying the same thing is that Barack Obama has recklessly risked the credibility of future presidents, and the future safety of this country, by his glib words and weak actions.
Some people who disagree with Obama’s issuance of a public ultimatum to the Assad regime in the first place, and who also disagree with his recent threat of military action against Syria, nevertheless say that we must back up that threat now, simply to forestall future dangers from a loss of American credibility in the eyes of other countries, including both our enemies and our allies.
But will a transparently token military action preserve American credibility? And dare we risk an unintended escalation, such as began both World Wars in the 20th century?
Since so little real history is taught in even our prestigious colleges and universities, it may be worth noting how World War II — the most catastrophic war in human history — began.
When a weak and vacillating leader, Britain’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, belatedly saw Hitler for what he was, after years of trying to appease him, he issued a public ultimatum that if Germany carried out its impending invasion of Poland, Britain would declare war.
By this time, Hitler had only contempt for Chamberlain, as Putin today has only contempt for Obama. Hitler went ahead with his invasion of Poland. Chamberlain then felt he had to declare war. That is how World War II began. Britain’s action did not save Poland, but only jeopardized its own survival.
Unintended consequences are at least as common in military actions on the world stage as they are in domestic policies that start out with lofty words and end with sordid and even catastrophic consequences.
Assurances from either President Barack Obama or Senator John McCain as to the limited nature of the military actions they advocate mean nothing. As someone said, long ago, once the shooting starts all plans go out the window.
If a purely token military strike will do little or nothing more to preserve our national credibility than will a failure to act at all, why get people killed to spare Barack Obama a personal humiliation?
This man’s runaway ego has already produced too many disasters at home and abroad, and nowhere more so than in the Middle East. A personal humiliation may be all that can make him stop and think before shooting off his mouth in the future, without thinking through the consequences beforehand — as he clearly has not done in this case, as shown by his recent delays and vacillations.
Nor is it at all clear that his previous policies and actions in the Middle East were well thought out, unless he was deliberately trying to weaken the position of the Western world, including Israel.
Whatever the Obama rhetoric, the reality is that his policies in Egypt and Libya have led to replacing stable regimes, at peace with Israel and the West, and tolerant of their own Christian minorities, with chaotic regimes in which fanatical anti-Western terrorists have played a large and growing role, with hostility to Israel and murderous attacks on Christians in their own country.
Barack Obama will try to salvage his policy and his presidency with a speech to the nation. Rhetoric is his strong suit. The big question is: How many Americans have learned to distinguish between his soaring words and his sorry record? Matters of life and death can hinge on the answer to that question.
Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.