Propelled, or rather held back by our overwhelming national rejection of acting in Syria or elsewhere outside the United States, we Americans are taking another step toward a new world order of our own making. In this new order, Russia and China set the standards for international behavior and the Syrias, North Koreas, and Irans are empowered by Russian and Chinese rules. The United States meanwhile voices the occasional world opinion and even sets some redlines when it comes to unacceptable behavior, but accepts that our full national power will not be used unless our homeland itself is once again directly under attack. This new reality is not the result of comments by our Secretary of State or by the decisions of the President of the United States, but a direct consequence of the vast majority opinion of the American people. Historians will of course remind us that we have been exhausted by foreign entanglements before before, since our very founding in fact, and since both after WWI and WWII, and at many other junctures of history. They will also acknowledge that the times we have gone to war and lost precious blood and treasure, have made us justifiably weary of the next hostile engagement.
I am among the apparent minority of Americans who do do not wish to accept such a new world order. I am proud that we engaged in and won both WWII and the Cold War. I am proud that we fought Communist totalitarianism and global terror. I am delighted that we threw Saddam Hussain out of Kuwait and that we dislodged Slobodan Milosevic and brought him to Justice for his crimes against humanity. Our country paid a price for its victories as well as its failures. Clearly not every one of our engagements was wise. But our intentions and our principles were. There used to be a time when the U.S. set international parameters for acceptable behavior, and both our friend and foes paid very close attention. The 20th century was the American Century and I firmly believe that the world will be a better place if the 21st is so as well.
On Syria we are now reduced to being lectured by an autocratic Russian leader on peace, democracy and international law! And rather than standing forcefully against a regime that has taken to kill its own people, we are breathing a sigh of relief that Russia has offered us a way out of acting on our convictions by engaging in Russian/Syrian “diplomacy” instead. In the end, the most serious consequences of this sad state of affairs are not the loss of credibility of the United States or our President or even the message our inaction conveys to repressive regimes around the globe. The real tragedy is that we seem to have lost something that we Americans have long stood for: the conviction that the whole world is entitled to certain inalienable rights and that we are the champions of these rights.
Today, our leaders are delivering to us, step by step, the America we are asking for: a nation that looks inward, that is less confident, that feels economically pressured, and just no longer sees itself as that exceptional, indispensable nation. We will not like the world we are allowing to be built by others who don’t share our values.