Images of dead Syrian babies have changed the way Europe and America is responding to the refugee crisis in the Middle East.
However heartfelt, it's never smart to let emotionalism guide policy, whether we're talking about refugees, immigration, or war.
Unfortunately, we do precisely that all the time, especially when there's pre-existing consensus in place.
As I write in a new Daily Beast column, we're constantly be yanked around by our feelings and gut reactions precisely when we need to keep a cooler head:
Only a year ago, the sight of two American freelance journalists being beheaded by ISIS flipped public opinion almost immediately in favor of going back militarily into the Middle East.
Once those videos had been released, ISIS, a group with perhaps zero ability to wreak serious havoc on America, suddenly became an "existential" threat to our very way of life. (And this, of course, was exactly the reaction ISIS was counting on.)
And of course, emotionalism is pretty much all we get when it comes to immigration:
Similarly, we should have an immigration policy that is settled and understood so that the statistically rare murder by an illegal immigrant doesn't become demagogic fodder for nativists and presidential candidates. Seventy percent of Americans support a path to legalization for illegals and maintaining or increasing current levels of immigration, attitudes that are rarely present in political discussions of the topic.
As an open-borders, non-interventionist libertarian, I think we should take in or otherwise help as many refugees as we can (in fact, the U.S. is the single-largest donor nation when it comes to humanitarian aid for displaced Syrians) and we should allow anyone who wants to work to enter and leave legally in the United States (as is currently the law, such people should be barred from accessing most forms of taxpayer-supported aid). No surprise there, I realize.
But regardless of your specific point of view on any given issue, I think you'll agree that we also need to get serious as a country to actually discuss, debate, and deliberate on such matters before they are upon us.
Otherwise, we're just going to be jerked around from one "crisis" to another with no real compass or plan. And if the past decade-plus of American involvement in the Middle East should teach us anything, it's that we can always make things worse when we rush into situations or policy decisions.
Finally—and perhaps most importantly because of our ability to rain down bombs from on high, send our youth to spill their blood, and participate in the deaths of millions—we should have a foreign policy that is clearly articulated, "consistent with a free society and aimed at securing America's interests in the world."
That way, when the heart-rending and blood-boiling images wash up on our newsfeeds like so many Syrian babies on a beach, we'll be in a far better position to take righteous and effective action. And we'll also lower the odds that such catastrophes would befall the world in the first place.