I cannot see why even a single American, a single Israeli or a single Syrian civilian should be killed as a result of a token U.S. military action, undertaken simply to spare Barack Obama the embarrassment of doing nothing, after his ill-advised public ultimatum to the Syrian government to not use chemical weapons was ignored.
Some people say that some military response is necessary, not to spare Obama a personal humiliation, but to spare the American presidency from losing all credibility — and therefore losing the ability to deter future threats to the United States without bloodshed.
There is no question that the credibility of the presidency — regardless of who holds that office — is a major asset of this country. Another way of saying the same thing is that Barack Obama has recklessly risked the credibility of future presidents, and the future safety of this country, by his glib words and weak actions.
Some people who disagree with Obama’s issuance of a public ultimatum to the Assad regime in the first place, and who also disagree with his recent threat of military action against Syria, nevertheless say that we must back up that threat now, simply to forestall future dangers from a loss of American credibility in the eyes of other countries, including both our enemies and our allies.
But will a transparently token military action preserve American credibility? And dare we risk an unintended escalation, such as began both World Wars in the 20th century?
Since so little real history is taught in even our prestigious colleges and universities, it may be worth noting how World War II — the most catastrophic war in human history — began.
When a weak and vacillating leader, Britain’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, belatedly saw Hitler for what he was, after years of trying to appease him, he issued a public ultimatum that if Germany carried out its impending invasion of Poland, Britain would declare war.
By this time, Hitler had only contempt for Chamberlain, as Putin today has only contempt for Obama.
Hitler went ahead with his invasion of Poland. Chamberlain then felt he had to declare war. That is how World War II began. Britain’s action did not save Poland, but only jeopardized its own survival.
Unintended consequences are at least as common in military actions on the world stage as they are in domestic policies that start out with lofty words and end with sordid and even catastrophic consequences.
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Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305. His website is http://www.tsowell.com. To find out more about Thomas Sowell and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at http://www.creators.com.
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