In her 2002 book, Statecraft: Strategies for a Changing World, Lady Margaret Thatcher reflects on what the American Revolution means to the world and what America meant to her, and she writes,
“These reflections lead me to certain conclusions about the conduct of international politics:
* America alone has the moral as well as the material capacity for world leadership.
* America’s destiny is bound up with global expression of the values of freedom.
* America’s closest allies, particularly her allies in the English-speaking world, must regard America’s mission as encompassing their own.”
And in a previous speech to The Heritage Foundation, she said this: “America’s duty is to lead. The other Western countries’ duty is to support its leadership”.
Pretty strong words, but they point to a significant reality: that the United States is the indispensable nation. Call it American exceptionalism if you like, that’s part of it. Lady Thatcher certainly bought into the notion. But I have plenty of doubts that the current administration does and this is playing out in its hesitancy in Syria.
Don’t misunderstand me, there are plenty of reasons not to get involved in Syria, plenty of well identified risks. But it seems increasingly clear that the risks of non-intervention outweigh those of our intervention so as to have a role in the outcome of a sectarian civil war that is threatening to become regional and, as I have previously suggested, take on many of the characteristics of the Spanish Civil War of the mid-1930s.
In fact, we have already squandered significant time that would have been more decisive in our impact on the outcome. But more importantly, I worry that our hesitancy is based less on tactical judgments of risk and more on our lack of moral clarity, our refusal to identify our enemy, and our political fear of “another Iraq”. The world and particularly our enemies are watching to see if our “red line” is purely rhetorical.