- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.
Yesterday, on a cold, rainy Sunday morning, I sat and re-read this part of Ambassador Power’s Friday speech advocating U.S. intervention in Syria. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but this passage, which is the end of her talk, really irked me:
The American people elect leaders to exercise judgment, and there have been times in our history when presidents have taken hard decisions to use force that were not initially popular, because they believed our interests demanded it. From 1992, when the Bosnian genocide started, till 1995, when President Clinton launched the air strikes that stopped the war, public opinion consistently opposed military action there. Even after we succeeded in ending the war and negotiating a peace settlement, the House of Representatives, reflecting public opinion, voted against deploying American troops to a NATO peacekeeping mission.
… If we cannot summon the courage to act when the evidence is clear, and when the action being contemplated is limited, then our ability to lead in the world is compromised. The alternative is to give a green light to outrages that will threaten our security and haunt our conscience, outrages that will eventually compel us to use force anyway down the line, at far greater risk and cost to our own citizens. If the last century teaches us anything, it is this.
Earlier in the speech, she says Americans are “ambivalent” about the situation. I don’t think they are. Yes, they think Syria is a problem, but they don’t think it is their problem.
So I went off to cook up a vat of vegetable curry. Finally I realized what was bothering me: Power’s stance is profoundly undemocratic. The American system is founded on the belief that the people do indeed know what is best for them. So I conclude that Power’s argument is itself yet another reason not to intervene in Syria — if we have to erode our system to do it, it certainly is not worth it.
Marc Lynch is associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, where he is the director of the Institute for Middle East Studies and of the Project on Middle East Political Science. He is also a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. He is the author of The Arab Uprising (March 2012, PublicAffairs).
He publishes frequently on the politics of the Middle East, with a particular focus on the Arab media and information technology, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, and Islamist movements.| Marc Lynch |