- - Friday, September 13, 2013

Americans think Syria is beyond the national interest

Adolf Hitler is back. Every time the war party wants to attack another country, its leader is always compared with the Nazi dictator. This time, it’s the turn of Syrian strongman Bashar Assad. Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have said Mr. Assad is the new “Hitler.” Even some on the right favoring military intervention, such as Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, are raising the specter that their anti-war opponents — especially conservatives — seek a “return to 1940.” Mr. O’Reilly calls it the “new isolationism.”

This is puerile nonsense. Mr. Assad is not even close to being another Hitler. Nor is opposing the bombing of Syria akin to those who sought to avoid American intervention in World War II. By 1940, Nazi Germany had invaded its neighbors and conquered much of Europe. The German Wehrmacht had smashed Poland, Czechoslovakia, France, Belgium and Holland. Austria had been annexed. The Luftwaffe was bombing London to rubble. Hitler’s genocidal campaign would eventually lead to a continent in ruins, 50 million dead and the Holocaust — the systematic extermination of the Jews.

Contrast this with Mr. Assad’s brutal regime. The Syrian civil war has cost more than 100,000 lives — many of them civilians. Yet it is an internal struggle, a savage sectarian conflict. Damascus’ armies are not rampaging across the Mideast. Mr. Assad is not sending the Jews — or any other group — into the gas chambers. He poses no threat to the United States, the world or even the region. He is a tin-pot Arab dictator clinging to power — nothing more and nothing less. To compare him with Hitler is not only ignorant, but obscene.

Moreover, the reason so many Americans oppose bombing Syria is that no vital U.S. national interest is at stake. Mr. Assad has not attacked or threatened the United States. His goal is to crush his country’s Sunni Muslim insurgency. He does not seek to invade his neighbors or launch a strike upon America. President Obama claims Mr. Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons crosses an “international red line,” setting an ominous precedent whereby other dictators may feel emboldened to use poison gas — including against U.S. troops — unless his regime is punished. Mr. Obama argues that, as the sole superpower, America must act to uphold world order.

The administration’s case is blown apart by one irrefutable event — Aleppo. In March, the northern Syrian city endured a devastating chemical-weapons strike, in which 26 civilians were gassed to death. The perpetrators: anti-Assad Islamist rebels. The United Nations sent a special team to investigate the heinous war crime. Their definitive conclusion was that the jihadists had used poison gas. Turkey has publicly acknowledged that they arrested Syrian rebels who possessed a canister with more than two kilograms of sarin gas. Other Islamist fighters have bragged on videos about killing women and children using chemical weapons. In other words, both sides have committed crimes against humanity. Both sides are guilty of launching deadly gas attacks.

Hence, Mr. Obama wants the United States to meddle in an internal squabble that is none of our business. He risks triggering an all-out regional conflagration and would potentially enable al Qaeda, which fills the ranks of the rebels, to seize power and with it, Syria’s vast arsenal of chemical weapons. His policy is reckless, arrogant and dangerous.

This is why supporters of a war have no other resort except cheap name-calling. Liberals under President Franklin D. Roosevelt used the term “isolationist” to smear critics who did not want America to enter World War II. There is only one problem: The term is meaningless. The more apt description is non-interventionist — the foreign policy dating back to George Washington that calls upon the United States to avoid foreign entanglements and preserve our constitutional liberties here at home. It is prudent patriotism that avoids the temptation of bellicose imperialism and hypernationalism. It is the policy fit for a self-governing republic, not a world empire.

For more than 50 years, the United States carried the mantle of liberty. We helped defeat Nazi Germany, and then Soviet Russia. With the end of the Cold War, however, America should have come home and dealt with urgent domestic problems. Instead, we fooled ourselves into thinking we are the “indispensable nation,” the global supercop. Yet pride comes before the fall. Like the Roman and British empires, America is following the disastrous path of imperial hubris and military overstretch. The results have been calamitous. Iraq, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Libya — nearly two decades of war and futile nation-building have left us exhausted, demoralized and nearly bankrupt. It’s time to put America first. This is not “isolationism.” It’s self-preservation. Only a fool would think otherwise.

Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a radio host on WRKO AM-680 in Boston.