In 2010, after nearly a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, deposing two tyrannical regimes, the military forces of the United States were on the clock to leave Iraq in December of 2011. Just 4 years earlier, the entire world watched Saddam Hussein, the “butcher of Baghdad“, hang for his countless crimes against the people of Iraq. Whatever direction political opinion of the Iraq War may have been blowing in America, the wider psychological and political impact of seeing the corpse of a hated dictator hanging limply by his neck resonated across a region of the world dominated by such hated dictators.
The seeds of change had been planted in the largely Arabic nations from Morocco, on the western coast of Africa, to Iran, deep in the heart of the Middle East. The tinder of raw nerves of decades of living under repressive dictators that, until Saddam, had seemed simply a fact of life now lay exposed. The entire Middle East became a powder keg of pent of rage that, for the first time in generations, had hope for release. The smoldering discontent that would soon explode into a raging inferno of protests and civil war awaited only a single spark.
“The cause of America is in a great
measure the cause of all mankind.”
-Thomas Paine, Common Sense-
Like countless men before him throughout history, Mohamed Bouazizi did not seek to start a revolution. He was simply a man born poor under a despot in Tunisia. At age 10, he dropped out of school to support his parents and put his younger sister through school. Unable to find steady work, Bouazizi, an honest man who believed in honest work, decided to take his fate into his own hands, becoming a merchant, selling fruit on the side of the street. He would buy his wares on credit, then sell them for a small profit, about $5 (US), the next day.
This was his life, and he embraced it. Through honest work and sheer will, day by day, customer by precious customer, Bouazizi hoped only to better his humble lot in life. One fateful day in December of 2010, a corrupt police official accused Bouazizi of not having paid for a permit to operate his stand, nevermind that no such permit was required by law. Bouazizi protested, partly out of indignation but mostly because he had no money to pay the official’s bribe.
As punishment, the police turned over his cart, spilling his livelihood into the street, and seized the only thing of value Bouazizi had on him, his produce scales. After futilely trying to get his scales back for an hour, with no way to pay back his debt, continue his business, or to pay for his sister’s schooling, Mohamed Bouazizi stood defiantly in the middle of the street in front of government offices with a can of gasoline. Before stunned onlookers, Bouazizi doused himself then screamed, “How do you expect me to make a living!?“
The fire he lit set the entire Arab world ablaze.
“It is change , continuing change, inevitable
change, that is the dominant factor
in society today.”
The Arab Spring was a moment in time, a chance for great leaders to do great things, and to change the fate of the world for millions who lived under tyranny. Sadly, for those rising up against their tyrannical governments, the west has long since exhausted its great leaders. When America had an opportunity to stand with the people, who had lived for so long under the yolk of tyranny yearned for freedom and equality, America failed to be America.
The United States and its European allies, instead of siding with the people, tried to prop up dictatorships in countries like Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and even Syria. In the philosophical space that should have been filled by western values of individual Liberty and moral equality, in rushed radical Jihadism, uncontested. The battle lines in people’s hearts had been drawn, and, with the absence of American idealism, the intractable fighting began between the tyranny of political elites on one side and the tyranny of radical Jihadism on the other.
The full cost of Obama’s feckless foreign policy during the Arab Spring is spilling over into our streets, and, in no small part, set the political stage for the rise of Trump. Trump then came into the White House on a wave of bluster, slogans, and pejorative. However, if we objectively compare the “Obama Doctrine” to the “Trump Doctrine“, it’s hard to see any difference after the April 6th bombing of a Syrian and Russian held airfield. In just a few weeks, we went from “regime change” under Obama, to “not our business” briefly under Trump, and now back to “regime change” again.
Inconsistency, it seems, is the only consistent policy between the Obama and Trump administrations.
“Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence…
the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly
awake, since history and experience prove that
foreign influence is one of the most baneful
foes of republican government.”
Let’s be absolutely clear on one point. Where there is no clear American interest, the United States should not engage in a policy of “nation building“. By “American interest“, I mean where American lives have been taken by bad actors abroad. If it were not for the lives taken by Barbary pirates, Jefferson would have had no justification to spend American lives in Tripoli. Were it not for the lives taken at Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt would have had no justification to spend American lives in Europe and the Pacific. Were it not for the lives taken on 9/11/2001, Bush would have had no justification to spend American lives in Afghanistan.
As of the time of this article, no American lives have been lost because of the Assad regime in Syria. Despite this, Donald Trump has decided to pick a fight Syria and, by proxy, Russia. By all accounts, the airfield that was bombed by US forces was up and operational again within 24 hours, but the foreign relations damage may be permanent. Whether Assad goes or stays, there is nothing to be gained by intervening on behalf of either side, with the Syrian government being geopolitically aligned with the Russians and the rebels being geopolitically aligned with Jihadists.
If Trump’s intent is truly to do good for the sake of doing good, not simply for his own political aggrandizement or, worse, to deflect attention away from the many suspicious connections between his campaign and Moscow, then there are avenues for a pro-American non-intervention. It would, however, create significant long-term friction between Washington and Moscow. There are no safe alliances to be found in Syria, but there is a group within Syria that has capitalized on the political instability to try to assert their autonomy: the Free Kurdish Movement.
While not perfect, the Free Kurdish Movement has a legitimate and morally justifiable political grievance. Though the United States should not directly involve itself in the military activities and necessities of the Kurds, it is long past time for the United States to take an affirmative stance in support of Kurdish independence, but that is the topic for another time.
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