Seventy percent of Americans oppose the barely visible military support the Obama administration last week promised the Syrian rebels. Seventy percent! I doubt if such a large figure could quickly be gotten up in favor of free lemonade on the 4th of July.
The public, according to Pew, feared the rebels might be no better than the government; in which case, why were we helping them? The New York Times itself -- house organ for the administration -- expressed uneasiness "about getting pulled into yet another war in the Middle East," given our dismal appreciation of how the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq "sapped the United States" without producing results classed as more than "ambiguous."
Isolationist sentiment, which used to run deep in the American character, most recently after Vietnam and before the Iranian hostage crisis, gives evidence of reemerging. The immigration debate is case in point. Why does everybody in the world seem to want to live here? That's one of the questions driving the debate.
What the Times calls the ambiguity of our military career in Iraq and Afghanistan -- neither country turned overnight into a robust democracy on the order of Chicago -- certainly contributes to doubts that we should be intervening even mildly, tentatively, hesitantly in Syria. What contributes even more to it, I would say, is Barack Obama's failure over the past five years to explain what he sees as America's position in the world.
I would venture a reason for that omission: He doesn't seem to know what that position ought to be. He hasn't reasoned it out. He seems to want other countries -- in the Middle East or the Islamic world, including Turkey, Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya and Syria, plus Russia -- to figure what they want, then tell him how we can work together.
The United States has never had such a non-foreign policy as it has presently, which is perhaps why so many American tend to gaze at it in befuddlement. What is our national interest? We never hear the question raised anymore, not since the George W. Bush administration. The American interest, according to Bush, was the implantation of democracy in the soil of autocracy, so that good and generally peaceful behavior might flourish where hatred and oppression had been more common.
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