As Donald Trump's bombing of a Syrian air base last week testifies, nothing stifles political dissent in America more quickly and completely than military action. Suddenly, even the Democratic congressional leadership of Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi is linking arms with a president they regularly assail as incompetent and unqualified. The mainstream media fell into line, too, with 83 percent of major newspapers supporting the action by one tally. Out of the 46 largest newspapers that editorialized on Syria, only one—The Houston Chronicle—opposed the air strike.
Where does such a mind-set come from? This is especially important since it's not clear that political and cultural elites are speaking for the majority of Americans when pushing a pro-intervention line. Indeed, one of Donald Trump's most-potent populist attacks during his presidential campaign sprung directly from suspicion of leaders being dangerously out of touch with what typical Americans felt. Iraq and Libya, he averred during the 2016 race, were flawed because they put the interests of "globalists" ahead of actual American interests. At least since the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the United States can't be fairly characterized as a non-interventionist country, but it's also fair to say that our country's foreign policy after World War II was not necessarily an expression of the vox populi. Foreign policy isn't something that should be put to a majority vote, of course, but when your whole political persona is speaking for the "forgotten" men and women of America, it's worth thinking about (this is also true, incidentally, when it comes to free trade and liberal immigration laws, which are also supported by majorities of voters).
At Hot Air, Allahpundit notes that even as one poll shows "52 percent of Republicans" strongly or somewhat support using ground troops to remove Bashar al-Assad from Syria, a plurality of Americans (44 percent to 41 percent) are plainly against such action. Other polls, such as CBS, show virtually no support for anything more than random, "humanitarian" airstrikes (which of course are anything but). The CBS polls says just 17 percent of us support the use of troops to unseat Assad. YouGov, meanwhile, finds massive and swift growth in the percentage of Republicans who believe that the United States "has a responsibility to intervene in trouble spots." Four years ago, just 18 percent of Republicans agreed with such a sentiment. As of last week, 51 percent does.
Which suggests that foreign policy is much more about domestic politics. While there is a strong pro-interventionist, neoconservative caucus within the Republican Party (think John McCain, who rarely meets a bombing or invasion program he doesn't fall in love with), partisan politics often does a better job of explaining where voters and leaders stand on anything. That is, until the bombs start exploding and the bullets start buzzing. Then you get 83 percent of newspapers rallying around the flag pole and otherwise mortal enemies linking arms and singing "Kumbaya," albeit in the name of war.
And you get commentaries like this by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry in The Week:
Whether you like it or not, America is the world's lone superpower, and its military dominance over the rest of the world has, despite all its flaws, produced an era of unprecedented peace and prosperity. The phrase "world policeman" is usually taken as a pejorative, but it is actually extremely apt: A policeman should not be a nanny or a busybody, but, by god, if he sees a thug punching a grandmother, he should intervene. It is actually the antithesis of that other pejorative word, "empire." In political theory terms, a policeman enforces a minimal rule set — what you must not do — whereas an empire enforces a maximal rule set — what you must do. A world empire would be a disaster, but a world policeman is a wonderful thing. And since there are no other credible candidates, America — meaning President Trump — must be it.
Gobry underscores that Trump's stated purpose in "lobbing a few Tomahawk missiles" was humanitarian (and thus a nearly complete renunciation of the platform on which Trump won). He says he was against Iraq and Libya and is not a fan of regime change, but hey, we're not trying to unseat Assad even as he admits that's the official U.S. policy nowadays. As if only U.S. intentions matter in foreign policy or things never get away from our noblest aspirations (this is all apart from the fundamental question of whether it's up to America to in fact discipline every godawful tyrant on the planet).
Gobry's herky-jerky perspective on intervention—I'm against it except when I'm for it, which is when it really has no impact on anything—is notable not for its rarity but for its ubiquity. Every politician and opinion writer, it seems, is convinced that the United States must do something, especially in the Middle East.
Many of America's adventures in the Arab world, especially Iraq and Libya, have been disasters with manifold unintended consequences that have made the world much worse and wreaked immense suffering… The problem is when the case against specific interventions is broadened into a heuristic that says that America should simply never intervene in the Middle East.
Screw the unintended consequences and the past 15 years of U.S.-enhanced "immense suffering." We've got to…what, keep repeating ourselves ad nauseum when it comes to bombing and dictating terms to countries over which we have little control and even less insight?
This is not a smart way of thinking and randomly "lobbing" missiles into the rat's nest of Syria—where we somehow are fighting on at least two opposite sides of a civil war—is unlikely to make anything better, either for Syrians, Americans, or other people in the world. But being an interventionist means never having to say you're sorry. And acting like Shelley's Ozymandias means that you will forever bid people to "Look on my works, ye might, and despair!"
It's a good thing Donald Trump (and most of his supporters) don't understand irony.
Related vid: "Trump's Syria Strike Won't Solve Any Problems But Could Make Everything Worse."