A five-star general was once asked about his feelings toward war. The general responded, “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”
Ike understood very well that the U.S. had a moral obligation to prevent tyranny by countering the Soviet Union. However, he also understood that our government must not be consumed with military adventurism.
He decried the “military-industrial complex” in his famous farewell address. He knew that we were headed into a boisterous foreign policy that would endanger our own republic and ultimately our individual liberties. We’ve seen it over and over with laws like the Patriot Act which are meant to prevent terrorist attacks. In reality what we see is the curbing of our civil liberties in the name of national security.
The ironic part of it all is that our current president ran to limit our “military footprint” around the world. His speeches are very Eisenhower-esque, but they fizzle in substance. It seems like deja vu: former President George W. Bush ran in 2000 on a “humble” foreign policy, but later began a campaign to spread democracy around the world.
Of course, political gimmicks are nothing new. Politicians often say things to get elected, and later the electorate grows dissatisfied when that leader ends up not living up to the promises he or she ran on. But war is different. Running to reduce our military presence and later drawing abrasive “red lines” against Syrian chemical weapons that seems like a mixed message.
And, in fact, President Obama’s speech on Syria was anything but clear. On the one hand he described the morbid use of chemical weapons in gassing hundreds of children to death, but on the other he then made the case that the U.S. should use diplomacy rather than military troops overseas. If the U.S. has a moral authority to stop Assad from killing more children, why not end it promptly? Where was the call for war?
The answer lies simply in the opinion polls. The U.S., and the world at large, is very weary of yet another war. People get the fact that the U.S. overextended its military influence around the world, especially in the Middle East.
We have a whopping 80 percent that supports congressional authorization for a military strike against Syria instead of handing down the authority to the president himself, and only about 33 percent of the public actually believes in sending troops to Damascus. That’s why President Obama tried to position himself in the middle by endorsing diplomacy and leaving the option open for a military strike. It makes sense, since the American public and our leaders have no idea who really is conducting the rebellion against Assad. There is actual evidence that shows a link to al-Qaeda.
The U.S. remains weak with uncertainty. It allows countries like Russia, Iran, and China (who are all key players in the Syrian conflict) to titter around, making our superpower look like a real laughingstock. This is a real problem with the “leading from behind” concept that the Obama Administration has taken for the last five years. Even when our enemies cross a red line, we do nothing.
It’s time for our government to embrace Eisenhower’s words and enunciate a realistic doctrine: U.S. intervention is only justified if our national security interests are at risk.
That’s what Ike did. Obama and every aspiring presidential candidate would be very wise to listen to Mr. Eisenhower’s vibrant words. A limited foreign policy that would not depend on ammunition but more on economic and diplomatic strength would have prevented quagmires like Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan which illustrate a weak and depressed nation rather than a superpower.
Obama is right, we are not the policeman of the world. We need to take a step back and allow for other countries to act. There really is no need to act quickly in Syria. Haven’t we learned the lesson that when we jump to conclusions and invade countries, we end up hurting our own reputation and geopolitical standing in the world?
It’s time for peace. As Saint Francis would have said, “Lord make me an instrument of thy Peace, where there is hatred let me sow love.” That’s what we need: not violence, but more love, more compassion, and a wiser approach to our foreign policy.