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The police of the world

not jumping to any conclusions

One week ago, President Trump ordered the complete eradication of a Syrian military airfield in response to incontrovertible evidence that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad authorized a chemical weapons attack against his citizens. Trump made the call from within the walls of the “Southern White House”—his beachside residence at Mar-a-Lago—prior to his first summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Trump has inherited varied reaction from both sides of the aisle for this bold maneuver. Democrats and Republicans alike have praised him for executing a necessary humanitarian intervention, while members of both parties also have criticized him for abandoning campaign promises as well as potentially catalyzing further conflict in the region. Amidst all the clamor surrounding Trump’s decision, one phrase has consistently been mentioned in both laudation and condemnation: “world police.”

Proponents of Trump’s decision to exert America’s authority as the “world police”—to the tune of 59 cruise missiles descending upon Al Shayrat Airfield—have expressed admiration. Simultaneously, opponents have doubled down on the mantra: “We are not the policemen of the world,” which was popularized by Bernie Sanders—and to an extent, Trump himself—during the 2016 campaign cycle. The difference between an interventionist and isolationist stance is a fundamental understanding of America’s role on the global stage. Yet images of the victims of Assad’s chemical attacks have the power to shake even the staunchest isolationist resolve.

The fact of the matter remains that U.S. intervention is oftentimes the only way to put an end to crimes against humanity. As the sole nation with the military and moral capacity to counter any threat to global security, America is thrust into a situation in which passivity is synonymous with complicity. Each time news of a human rights abuse has broken, sights have always focused on America with expectation of a response. For the past five years, a glance at Aleppo has always been followed by a look towards Washington D.C.

This look has had the length and intensity of a gaze from an opponent in a staring contest, as the entire world waited for America to act. Previously, America had looked right back into the eyes of the global world order, signaling—at least in the case of Syria—that it would not respond. Thursday, America recognized the juvenility of this practice and did what only it could do: take a stand against injustice.

If America did not act against the Assad regime, the atrocities simply would have continued to occur because no one else would have intervened. By default—and like it or not—America has become the “policeman of the world.”

Consequently, acting as the “policeman of the world” has become critical to the United States maintaining its status as the premier world power. America’s desire to promote order across the globe distinguishes it from peers like Russia and China, which are military equals but remain ethically inferior. As the leader of the free world, America has an obligation, and a political incentive, to intervene when instances of gross human rights abuses occur.

Trump’s authorization of the coordinated strike on Al Shayrat Airfield marked a departure from a U.S. foreign policy approach to Syria that deprecated American global authority and has been a humanitarian catastrophic. The images of Syrian children gasping for air, as vapor from deadly nerve agents dissipates overhead and bloodied children dusted black from rubble, had become associated with U.S. inaction. The world began to view America as a nation incapable of exercising its authority, either because of weakened physical strength or, more likely, compromised moral fortitude. Such a perception was in itself a national security threat, which supplemented the national security threat inherent to the harm done to global security by the Assad regime.

The transformation from Jeffersonian to Wilsonian is one that does not easily occur, as evidenced by the 142 years separating the two foreign policy ideologies. It took upwards of 500,000 deaths and countless violations of the Geneva Protocol for America to shift paradigms, but eventually the decision to save lives and reclaim our rightful position in world affairs was made.

The implications of involvement in the ongoing conflict in Syria, which features the Russian-allied forces of Assad fighting against the rebel forces of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), are indeed precarious and constitute another established threat to national security surrounding ISIS. However, the cost of inaction is much higher. The threat the Assad regime poses to global security is comparable in magnitude to that of ISIS, and opposing Assad does not mean supporting ISIS—especially given U.S. military abilities. Furthermore, submitting to Russian authority in the region allows for the continued promotion of a world order in which human rights violations occur in Syria and U.S. national security interests are threatened. Given the ability to respond and provided with the opportunity, America had no choice but to take action against the Assad regime.

Because if not America, then who? Because if not now, then when? America is the only nation capable of serving as the “policeman of the world,” and if it does not wear that badge, no one will protect peace and liberty against the forces of evil.

Jacob Weiss is a Trinity junior. His column, “not jumping to any conclusions” runs on alternate Wednesdays.


Jacob Weiss

Jacob Weiss is a Trinity senior. His column, "not jumping to any conclusions," runs on alternate Fridays.

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