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Syria crisis poses dilemma for Americans

Published: Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013 1:15 a.m. CST

I am not writing on whether I support any degree of U.S. action against Syria.

I am writing about broader, more difficult questions that Syria raises: questions that must inform and be addressed by the debate in Congress, and that the American people must more generally confront.  

In a news conference explaining the escalation of the Vietnam War, President Lyndon Johnson shared a question posed to him by a mother of a man in uniform: “Why must young Americans born into a land exultant with hope and with golden promise, toil and suffer and sometimes die in such a remote and distant place?”

Johnson answered, “We did not choose to be the guardians at the gate, but there is no one else.”

Johnson omitted that the U.S. helped design and build the rest of the fence.

Particularly in the modern Middle East, why do we too often insist on using our foreign policy to build and define, through action and inaction, a world in which young people must toil and suffer and sometimes die, not for human dignity, but strategic calculations not their own?  

Having helped build that world, do we shirk or embrace it (and how), facing terrible consequences either way?

In the words of President Kennedy, while “we must face the fact that the U.S. is neither omnipotent or omniscient – and that therefore there cannot be an American solution to every world problem,” do we ignore our national convictions to “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty,” at the cost of human lives at home and abroad?

Recent historical lessons must inform our tactful decisions, but can we afford fear-driven isolationism as much as we cannot afford fear-driven jingoism?

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