Syria, Credibility, and 'Armchair Isolationism'

Who is this imposter who has the gall to call himself "John Kerry?" The real John Kerry is an intelligent liberal, indeed something of a hero for having the courage to not only vigorously oppose the Vietnam War -- the last U.S. war fought in the name of "credibility" -- but to openly charge that the U.S. was committing "war crimes" there. Surely this can't be the same fellow who is not only leading the charge for the U.S. to plunge into yet another unnecessary and unwise war, but whose rhetoric is increasingly bizarre.

Now he fears that if we don't go to war in Syria, we will lose our "credibility?" Credibility to do what? Stupidly intervene in yet another civil war in a country of little importance to vital U.S. interests, in which we not only lack "vital interests" at stake, but in which, if we had, we wouldn't know which side to support, and in which we have no idea whether our intervention will save innocent lives or put them still further into danger?

If that wasn't bad enough, now "John Kerry" accuses opponents of an attack on Syria of advocating "armchair isolationism." What? First of all, to oppose the war in Syria does not make one "isolationist," or even "anti-war," as opposed to opposing this specific war. The opposite of "isolationism" usually is defined as "internationalism." By such reasoning, then, this must mean that "internationalists" favor going to war with everyone.

Moreover, the United States would greatly benefit from a healthy dose of isolationism to at least partly balance what ought to be called "mindless interventionism." After all, the problem with U.S. foreign policy since the end of World War II -- and even more so since the end of the Cold War -- has not exactly been a refusal to get into foreign wars.

Finally, the very concept of an "armchair isolationist" is incoherent. Apparently Kerry has confused the term with that of the common one, "armchair warrior." That is a coherent and, indeed, powerful concept. It refers, of course, to someone who wants other people to go to war while he sits safely at home. Now try making sense of "armchair isolationism."

Jerome Slater is a University Research Scholar and professor of political science (emeritus) at the State University of New York, Buffalo. He blogs at jeromeslater.com, where this article is cross-posted.

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Stephen M. Walt

Lord Peter Wimsey on Syria and the Need to Preserve 'Prestige'

Some wise words from the late Dorothy Sayers, from the 1942 short story "Talboys." In the story, one of Lord Peter Wimsey's sons is accused of stealing peaches from a neighboring farmer. Lord Peter investigates and clears his son of the crime, while fending off the well-intentioned but naive interference of a nosy governess. Along the way he offers his son, Bredon, the following advice:

 

"I'll tell you a secret, Bredon. Grown-up people don't always know everything, though they try to pretend they do. That is called 'prestige,' and is responsible for most of the wars that devastate the continent of Europe."

Or the Middle East, one might add. I don't mean to make light of the tragedy that has been unfolding in Syria, but Sayers's observation -- in the voice of Lord Peter -- has always struck me as of considerable relevance to contemporary foreign policy-making, especially in the credibility-obsessed USA.

Thumbnail image from Amazon.com ("Lord Peter : The Complete Lord Peter Wimsey Stories")