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Syria is a Distraction From Our Moral Choices At Home

The use of chemical weapons against Syrian citizens is abominable, but have we learned nothing from our mistakes in the past?
 
 
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Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Aleksey Klints

 
 
 
 

We are on the brink of a tragic decision to strike Syria, because, in the dubious logic of the President, “a lot of people think something should be done,” and American “credibility” is at stake. He and his secretary of state assure us that the strike will be “limited” and “surgical.”

The use of chemical weapons against Syrian citizens is abominable, and if Assad’s regime is responsible he should be treated as an international criminal and pariah. 

But have we learned nothing from our mistakes in the past? Time and again over the last half century American presidents have justified so-called “surgical strikes” because the nation’s “credibility” is at stake, and because we have to take some action to show our “strength and resolve” — only to learn years later that our credibility suffered more from our brazen bellicosity, that the surgical strikes only intensified hostilities and made us captive to forces beyond our control, and that our resolve eventually disappears in the face of mounting casualties of Americans and innocent civilians — and in the absence of clearly-defined goals or even clear exit strategies. We and others have paid an incalculable price.

We should instead be testing the nation’s resolve to provide good jobs at good wages to all Americans who need them, and measuring our credibility by the yardstick of equal opportunity. And we should strike (and join striking workers) against big employers who won’t provide their employees with minimally-decent wages. We need to commit ourselves to a living wage, and to providing more economic security to the millions of Americans now working harder but getting nowhere.

Mr. President, a lot of Americans do think something should be done — about these mounting problems at our doorstep here in America. We can have more influence on the rest of the world by showing the rest of the world our resolve to live by our ideals here in America, than by using brute force to prove our resolve elsewhere. 

Robert Reich is the nation's 22nd Secretary of Labor and a professor at the University of California at Berkeley.
 
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