Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There!

As a long time non-interventionist veteran of the intra-conservative battle over foreign policy, I often find myself dealing with the default assumption by American interventionists that America just has to “do something” about whatever the foreign crisis of the day is. They are reminiscent of the harried work supervisor who exclaims to a slack employee, “Don’t just stand there, do something.”

So when there is a civil war in Syria, we hear “What are we going to do about Syria?” In the ongoing issue of whether or not Iran is seeking to manufacture a nuclear warhead we hear, “How are we going to keep Iran from getting nukes?” Since Ukraine is currently one of the most prominent flashpoints, “What are we going to do about Ukraine?” is a commonly expressed sentiment these days, as is “What are we going to do about ISIS?”

Usually these questions are directed toward President Obama who is seen as being insufficiently activist. When pressed, most of the people who ask these questions don’t really have a coherent plan of their own. Many seem primarily interested in more heated rhetoric and tougher sanctions or other such ploys, because they often stop short of actually endorsing US troops on the ground.

This indicates a kind of magical thinking that if the US just talks tougher and shows adequate “resolve” then the international bad guys will get in line. This betrays a gross naiveté about how the world really works. It is a foreign policy based on the fantasy of the US as global good guy bearing the burden of maintaining world order against wannabe bad guys who must periodically be smacked down.

Conservative interventionists need to step back for a minute and seriously examine this compulsion to call for US action to “do something” about far off conflicts. This tendency does not flow naturally from the conservative disposition. Setting in the comfort of your own home and insisting that your country must do something about a conflict half a globe away is profoundly unnatural. It is learned through repeated catechism on FOX NEWS, talk radio and other “conservative” sources of news and opinion. It therefore must be unlearned.

We know this is a learned sentiment because it is not universalized despite the universalist rhetoric that backs it up. Very unfortunate atrocities take place all the time in Africa, yet you seldom hear conservatives clamoring to “do something” about them, and often they suggest we shouldn’t. They will often suggest instead that the military is for fighting and winning wars (“killing people and blowing things up,” not humanitarian missions. Our disastrous attempt to intervene in Somalia was broadly criticized on the right as a liberal humanitarian enterprise.

And before liberal and PC cynics suggest that this is because American conservatives are motivated by greed and racism, and don’t concern themselves with Africa because it is not pumping oil and is inhabited by black people, keep in mind that conservatives were also broadly critical of America’s intervention in Bosnia where Caucasian were slaughtering other Caucasian with no oil involved and widely viewed it as more Clinton do-goodism, as well as an attempt to distract attention from you know who. (Neocon ideologues did support Clinton’s intervention in Bosnia, but the base largely did not.)

Below our long southern border, Mexico is on the verge of becoming a failed narco state, but no conservatives are clamoring for us to put “boots on the ground” in Mexico to restore law and order where we clearly have more at stake than we do in Syria or Ukraine.

No, this reflexive tendency to think the US must do something to keep the “world” safe for democracy seems, where rubber meets road, curiously confined primarily to the Middle East, the old Soviet Union and old West vs. Communism conflicts such as Korea. Here, conservatives have been taught to overcome their innate tendency to primarily concern themselves with home and instead fret about far off conflicts.

So when the interventionist asks, “What should we do about Iran?” the answer should be “nothing.”

When the interventionist asks, “What should we do about ISIS?” the answer should be “nothing.” Had we not overthrow Saddam in the first place, ISIS would not exist.

When the interventionist asks, “What should we do about Ukraine?” the answer should be “nothing.” Had the EU and the US not fomented a coup there against their duly elected leader, we wouldn’t now be hypocritically condemning the Russians for meddling.

We need to turn the instruction of our harried supervisor on its head. It’s high time for the US to just stand here and do nothing.

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