The United States is the most powerful nation on earth. Can it use this power in a positive manner? Though the definition of positive will often differ (whether it is aiding Libyan rebels or putting troops in several African nations), it nearly always means military intervention.

Senator John McCain has proposed the United States become involved in the Syria’s conflicts, in the way of using air strikes to aid the Syrian rebels. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has advocated this as well. While he may have the best intentions, it is necessary to keep two major factors in mind— history and principles.

If men wish to heed its advice, history teaches and warns. The United States has fought many wars on foreign soil—from the Barbary Wars of the early 1800’s, to the two World Wars, to the Vietnam War. A distinction between two kinds of conflict must be made: wars fought in self-defense and wars fought in conquest. Of course, grey areas exist in between these two, i.e. the Cold War. One may argue that the Vietnam War was a result of American advisers sent to South Vietnam. The Gulf of Tonkin Incident (the event that resulted in the sending of combat troops to South Vietnam) would not have happened if the advisers were not present. One may also argue that our involvement in Vietnam was a matter of self-defense, referring to prevention of the spread of Communism. However, some say that Communists would not have attacked the United States, considering the heavy price of World War II and the weakness of their economy.

Recently, the United States has maintained an interventionist mentality. The Clinton Administration was rather fond of these foreign interventions, with the blessing of the United Nations– of course. During the 1990’s, the Clinton Administration sent troops to SomaliaHaiti, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. None of these conflicts involved attacks against the United States, or even preemptive strikes to prevent attacks. Rather, they were all products of a Peace Corps mentality. In other words, using the military as more of a humanitarian effort than in defense of our nation.

The effects of this mentality are evident in the results. In all of the example countries listed, things were not suddenly better because we decided to intervene. Somalia is still in anarchy (with a large Al Qaeda prescience), Haiti (even before the earthquake) was not transformed into a tropical paradise, and the NATO forces in Bosnia remained until 2004.

Who are the Syrian rebels? Contrary to what one may want to think, they are not all freedom-loving, selfless revolutionaries. In fact, Al Qaeda has attached itself to this rebel movement in Syria. Just as in Libya, aiding the Syrian rebels equates to aiding our enemies.

These interventions raise questions of an ideological nature. Why should we use our military to intervene in the affairs of foreign countries who have not attacked us, nor are poised to do so? Apart from this issue, the United States government is not financially able to implement such policies. Using Libya as an example the costs associated with such an operation; approximately 900 million dollars is not affordable for us right now, period, especially at such a high risk of the lives of military personnel.

The motivations can be summed up simply as “The Syrian government is bad and their enemies should be supported.” Yes, no one can deny that the Syrian government is “bad,” but Al Qaeda is much worse. And is Al Qaeda not our enemy as well? If the same justification is to become a standard belief, then a great number of nations could be attacked. I do not defend the Syrian government for their repression of liberty, but taking action in favor of a side opens the door to further widespread military engagements that are unrelated to the defense of the United States.

The fog of war is always thick, though this does not mean that American lives and money must be spent to engage a corrupt nation’s situation that is much more complicated to fix than the U.S. sweeping in and saving the day.

Christian Lopac :: University of St. Thomas (MN) :: Cokato, Minnesota :: @CLopac