A common slur from interventionists is that so-called isolationists condone oppressive regimes, cruel warlords, or bloody civil wars simply because they do not wish to militarily engage. To wish to keep your tax dollars, your name, and more importantly, "your" armed forces out of other countries is to not care when other people are suffering. It’s easy to make this charge, because we humans are always tempted to just cavalry charge right in and save the day. Doing nothing feels wrong to a lot of misguided, good people, as well as some nasty, conniving ones who are addicted to meddling.
Last month, Former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton, a mean old hawk, went from zero to accusations of "libertarians defending that dictatorship" in less than a minute, when he appeared on the Fox Business show The Independents to discuss Iraq’s recent horrors. This idea peaked during the blaring war drums in 2002 and 2003, but after all the misery the Iraqis have suffered, its immortality is still impressive. Neocon rags like The Washington Free Beacon question every anti-interventionist’s bona fides, and if necessary, suggest they are raving anti-Semites. The Daily Beast has enough diversity to publish libertarians and conservatives who look down on anti-interventionists. And of course, creeps like Sens. Lindsey Graham and John McCain can be depended upon to support any and all interventions, or suggestions to arm rebels as the case may be. If you disagree, well, odds are you’re with the terrorists.
These days, to be cautious about a Cold War sequel is to be a Putin apologist. Calls to intervene in Iraq again as it falls to ISIS are thankfully not as loud as they might be, but the damage done there is already incalculable after all.
What about Syria?
Over at The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg – a particularly biased source, since he was once in the Israeli Defense Force, but let’s take his argument at face value for a moment – wonders why people are so obsessed with Gaza all of a sudden, and have forgotten the horrorshow in Syria.
It’s very simple, Jeff. And it is not that the lives of Palestinians are worth more than the lives of Syrians. It’s that the nature of your musing unfortunately hinges on the unasked, implicit question, what should "we" – the world, or more likely the US – do about Syria?
Goldberg mentions the lack of recent media coverage of this conflict – which has now killed a staggering 170,000 people – and this is a fair critique of the news, but nothing more. It’s easy to wish that people were more interested in understanding the nuances of foreign conflicts (assuming the US media would provide such a service) than Justin Bieber’s latest hijinx. But they are not. And you cannot cram misery down people’s throats, even if the knowledge of it would do them good. So, with the fear of a new Cold War bringing back all sorts of memories, and a new outbreak of violence in Israel, yeah, it’s not surprising that an older meat grinder of a war has been placed on the back burner.
If you have a problem with Israel’s behavior towards Palestinians (and you should), then yes, there’s a logic to feeling more angry about this conflict than the one in Syria. The latter is a force of nature that feels unstoppable, because we are outsiders looking at a war with two sides we can barely untangle. I don’t know what to do about Syria, what to do about Assad or the fundamentalist Muslims who make up many of the rebel forces. Does Jeffrey Goldberg know? Or is he simply playing the caring harder than you card? We should care about human misery, but there’s plenty of it to go around at any one time in this world.
Meanwhile, Israel is in Gaza. Twenty-five percent US-subsidized missiles are hitting UN schools and killing children playing on beaches. Here in the US, we don’t get a say in helping to fund that. The way that certain politicians speak about Israel, and the support for the country being so inherent in American politics, it feels as if Americans are rolling into Gaza, too ( though, now and again they actually are). And billions of dollars in aid suggest we are.
That’s why people get upset about some conflicts more than others. Because they’re helping to kill people, whether they want to or not.
Even when the Ron Pauls of the world arguably go too far in acting as if someone like Putin isn’t awful, that should be understood from the perspective of a reaction to the fear of war. We know a principled libertarian like Paul dislikes dictators, and Putin qualifies as such. But aversion to US intervention – and the knowledge that war is antithetical to individual freedom – colors Paul’s argument.
Is it any wonder that after 115 years of empire, the people trying desperately to go cold turkey off that drug sometimes sound like they’re going easy on everyone except the bad guys at home? The bad guys at home are acting in our name. The patriotic scolds ask why anti-interventionists obsess over America (or Israel) and not boogeymen like Assad or Putin. Because our standards – or noble little Israel the democracy’s – were supposed to be higher than theocracies’, or oligarchies’, or dictatorships’. Because dead innocent people has no excuse – certainly not good intentions, or relative freedom for our own people. And because we should stop the imperialists, and the international cowboys, and the child-killers, but we don’t. We just watch the missiles we bought hit their targets on CNN.
Lucy Steigerwald is a contributing editor for Antiwar.com and a columnist for VICE.com. She previously worked as an Associate Editor for Reason magazine. She is most angry about police, prisons, and wars. Steigerwald blogs at www.thestagblog.com.