This Labor Day weekend, President Obama addressed the nation regarding a possible strike on Syria’s Assad regime:
Here’s my question for every member of Congress and every member of the global community: What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price? …
Make no mistake — this has implications beyond chemical warfare. If we won’t enforce accountability in the face of this heinous act, what does it say about our resolve to stand up to others who flout fundamental international rules? To governments who would choose to build nuclear arms? To terrorist[s] [sic] who would spread biological weapons? To armies who carry out genocide?
Below are the words of President George W. Bush on September 12, 2002 before the United Nations prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq by U.S. and Coalition forces:
If we fail to act in the face of danger, the people of Iraq will continue to live in brutal submission. The regime will have new power to bully, dominate and conquer its neighbors, condemning the Middle East to more years of bloodshed and fear. The region will remain unstable, with little hope of freedom and isolated from the progress of our times. With every step the Iraqi regime takes toward gaining and deploying the most terrible weapons, our own options to confront that regime will narrow. And if an emboldened regime were to supply these weapons to terrorist allies, then the attacks of September 11th would be a prelude to far greater horrors.
Both men argue that failing to stop an evil dictator from brazen and vicious assaults on human rights and disrespecting international norms will embolden said dictators to continue the behavior and will increase the likelihood the behavior will get worse (it is the neoconservative argument that you can’t appease a bully). Also, both men specifically reference the eventuality that the dictators will supply terrorist allies. My point here is just to note the similarity.
There is also striking similarity in the other planks of their arguments. Here, again, is President Obama this weekend:
[I]f we really do want to turn away from taking appropriate action in the face of such an unspeakable outrage, then we must acknowledge the costs of doing nothing.
… What’s the purpose of the international system that we’ve built if a prohibition on the use of chemical weapons that has been agreed to by the governments of 98 percent of the world’s people and approved overwhelmingly by the Congress of the United States is not enforced?
Here is President Bush in 2002 before the UN:
The United States helped found the United Nations. We want the U.N. to be effective and respected and successful. We want the resolutions of the world’s most important multilateral body to be enforced. Right now these resolutions are being unilaterally subverted by the Iraqi regime. Our partnership of nations can meet the test before us, by making clear what we now expect of the Iraqi regime …
My nation will work with the U.N. Security Council on a new resolution to meet our common challenge. If Iraq’s regime defies us again, the world must move deliberately and decisively to hold Iraq to account. The purposes of the United States should not be doubted. The Security Council resolutions will be enforced — the just demands of peace and security will be met — or action will be unavoidable.
They make the identical argument: that to fail to confront a blatant mass-scale human rights abuser who has repeatedly, knowingly, and blatantly defied international norms and sanctions would be to allow that human rights abuser to de-legitimize international law and the bodies that uphold it.
None of this is to argue that both men are right, or wrong. But I think an objective party would have a tough time arguing they are miles apart in terms of their logic when it comes to military intervention.
My general take is: when it comes to mass atrocities, especially those conducted by individuals and groups with great potential to gain momentum and threaten our allies and way of life, there is indeed a good argument for intervention, generally speaking. We are a strong country, and although, to quote Condoleezza Rice, “the burdens of leadership are heavy,” the U.S. must continue to intervene on behalf of the world’s most desperate people. Then again, if recent decades have taught us anything, it is that our first President George Washington’s admonition to “beware foreign entanglements” was wise - and prescient.
Will continue to follow this evolving situation.
Have PoliticalMavens.com delivered to your inbox in a daily digest by clicking here