International affairs: Cost of doing nothing

You’re walking down the typical neighborhood street when you spot two people in the midst of an argument just a stone’s throw from where you are. What do you do? Your answer probably depends on the nature of the fight.

If they’re being respectful and calm, you probably wouldn’t even break stride. If they’re screaming, but keeping their distance, you’d probably just glance a little longer.

If they’re about to come to blows, but they are about the same size, you might try to calm them down or you might not. If one of the participants is twice the size of the other, you’d probably try to intervene if you had the ability.

In general, the more dangerous the argument and more unbalanced it is, the more likely you are to join in on behalf of the person likely to get flattened; especially if you agree with them.

Swap the street corner for the cradle of civilization and you’re looking at the situation in Syria.

What started as vocal opposition has turned into a bloody fight, and the good guys are losing. When does someone step in and put the bully on his back? That’s a very good question that puts us in the central foreign debate of our time.

When is it okay to intervene inside another country? If you’re attacked directly, you’re in the clear to respond however you like. But what if your interests are only a sideshow to the real fight?

Does the United States or international community have the right to send troops and bombs to Syria to stop the fighting?

The conflict in Syria is a purely intrastate affair. The United Nations would say that we can’t violate the sovereignty of another nation. Average humanity would dictate that we put ourselves between the Syrian government and the people they are slaughtering.

Yet there is a growing opposition at home and abroad to keep the U.S. from being the world’s police force.

Do you see the problem? The Syrian government is killing its own people and will continue to do so unless someone helps them. On the other hand, people increasingly oppose American intervention abroad.

Where is the line between humanitarian intervention and imperialism? When is it okay to intervene and when is it none of our business?

Let’s return to the opening metaphor. If it’s not a violent altercation, perhaps we should stay out. If it’s violent but even, we might still want to remain on the sidelines. Yet if it’s violent and an unfair fight, don’t we have to do something?

No nation should be able to retain its sovereignty if it is trying to exterminate its own people.

Someone has to intervene. Yet if we do, so many will complain about America getting involved in another war in the Middle East.

It will cost us in blood and treasure and we’ll again have to answer the daunting question of what comes after we topple the despot.

We could spend another nine years building a country out of duct tape and Lincoln Logs if we intervene. If we don’t, people will die painful deaths by the hundreds.

There are no easy answers. Neither option is a good one. Yet if we, once again, place ourselves on
the street corner, we might find wisdom.

You try to break up the fight, but while doing so get your nose broken. It takes a long time to
heal, but the smaller person survives the beating.

If you just walk by, you’ll get home to read in the newspaper that a man was killed on your street corner.

Which one of those scenarios lets you sleep at night? It might be easier to walk by the fight at the time, but it will wear on your conscience forever.


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