Granted, I'm no expert on foreign conflicts. But I did report briefly from the border area where Syria, Iraq and Turkey meet during the end of the first Gulf War. And I parachuted into Bosnia during that war in the early 1990s.
And those trips were just enough to teach me how complicated foreign disputes can be -- often rooted in centuries-old grudges Americans scarcely understand -- and how overconfident and simplistic the United States can be in its attempts to fix other people's problems.
That's not to say we should never offer our services, depending on circumstances. But the mess in Syria -- where hundreds of civilians including children have been killed with chemical weapons -- isn't something the U.S. can fix with a limited military strike, as President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have conceded. It's like trying to choose sides in a free-for-all.
So why consider it? I've yet to hear a good answer. Not from Obama, or Kerry, or California's U.S. senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, or Rep. Nancy Pelosi, all of whom have been saber-rattling along with President Obama.
I suppose the president will try to make the case for intervening Tuesday night in his national address, but for me, he's forfeited any credibility by bungling matters from the beginning, drawing lines, erasing them, then flipping a coin for his next move. He has to hope the Russians can actually deliver on a proposal calling for Syria to cede its chemical weapons to international control, thereby rescuing him from an embarrassing Congressional rejection of a military strike.
The American public has been smarter on Syria than Obama has. A majority of people doubt that military action would have positive consequences. And they're right to believe that a strike might actually make matters worse.
What do we do after dropping the bombs, hang another "Mission Accomplished" banner on a destroyer and hope that either Syrian President Bashar al-Assad learns his lesson or that his successor is a savior rather than an even more terrifying monster?
The United States has done more good in the world than any other nation, but its long history of hypocritical and self-serving foreign policy and intervention has also led to loathing and distrust around the globe.
This time, there's distrust here at home, too. People lined the streets of Glendale Boulevard on Monday night as I drove home, waving signs and calling out their opposition to yet another show of might in the Middle East.
They know that conflict is filled with complication, that intervention can have costly unintended consequences for years to come, that aggression leads inevitably to retaliation down the line, and that we'd be better off focusing on our myriad domestic problems than trying to choose sides in someone else's war.
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