From Our Future
In the time it takes to read these words, a child under the age of five will probably die in Yemen.
And, as this is being written, the U.N. Security Council is meeting to discuss a gas attack in Syria. President Trump, with newly-appointed National Security Adviser John Bolton at his side, says he will decide on his course of action within 24 to 48 hours.
The Syrian people's tragedy is enormous. So is the possibility for military confrontation between two nuclear powers.
But while the headlines focus on Syria, and as a multitude of voices call for increased military involvement there, don't forget the tragedy in Yemen. We can save lives much more easily there. We don't have to send troops or launch missiles.
All we have to do is leave.Empathy and Intervention
Political scientists at the University of Toronto have linked empathy to left-leaning political views. Linguist George Lakoff associates the liberal personality with the "nurturant parent" model of the family. And the stereotypical American self-image, across the political spectrum, is that of someone who is willing to help others.
Interestingly, most Americans see other Americans as "selfish," according to a 2015 Pew Research Center survey.
Perhaps that's why presidential candidate Bill Clinton used empathic language when he argued for US military action in Bosnia and Herzegovina -- "because," said candidate Clinton, "I'm horrified by what I've seen."
That language reinforced what the New York Times called Clinton's "aggressive tack" on the region.
Under President Clinton, NATO conducted years of bombing in the region and sent 60,000 troops to enforce the Dayton Accords. Clinton faced resistance from left and right. That conflict was, in the words of the New York Times Editorial Board, "not America's war." But Clinton and his team invoked the image of the US as the world's leader -- and the suffering of children -- to make the case for intervention.More Than Just a Place
In a 1995 speech announcing his decision to send peacekeeping troops, Clinton shrewdly leavened his liberal empathy ("In fulfilling this mission, we will have the chance to help stop the killing of innocent civilians, especially children") with self-interest ("and at the same time, to bring stability to central Europe, a region of the world that is vital to our national interests.")
Clinton then pivoted to the time-tested theme of the US as a uniquely generous and selfless military force. "America has always been more than just a place," he said, adding:
"America has embodied an idea that has become the ideal for billions of people throughout the world... America is about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness ... America has done more than simply stand for these ideals. We have acted on them and sacrificed for them. Our people fought two world wars so that freedom could triumph over tyranny."
This is how liberal interventionism has always been packaged in American politics: with the notion that our highest ideals are best expressed, not through diplomacy, but through the projection of military force outside our borders. In this telling, history has ended. We are the indispensable nation. We alone must balance the war-torn world on our khaki-clad shoulders.A "Humanitarian War"
Perhaps that's why, as the Bosnian conflict escalated, the Clinton Administration and other world governments ignored the non-violent independence movement taking place in nearby Kosovo. It was only after that conflict turned violent, with the rise of the Kosovo Liberation Army, that the Administration responded.
When Clinton addressed the nation on Kosovo, he didn't rely on empathy for other people's children. He called intervention the best course for American children and their future -- saying it, not once, but three times.
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