There are going to be times, though, where, as is true here, the international community is stuck for a whole variety of political reasons. And if that’s the case, people are going to look to the United States and say, “What are you going to do about it?” And that’s not a responsibility that we always enjoy… And the question for the American people is, is that responsibility [one] we’re willing to bear.
With the above statement, delivered extemporaneously to the press at the end of the G20 Summit, as well as with further connected remarks on the security threats that confront America and the world uniquely in this era,1 President Obama confirmed that he has been thinking about the “Crisis in Syria” historically, or, we can say, world-historically. The mode was appropriate to time, place, and moment – summation of the summit – but, unfortunately for him, as a man of action despite his re-assuringly phlegmatic demeanor, placement of the world-historical thought next to any particular occasion for it evokes a disproportion between action and meaning (or “true intentions“). The effect is to feed a general suspicion, or completely valid surmise, in regard to the Syrian conflict as to any war worthy of the name, that to will anything is to will everything, and America would rather not will at all. To make matters even more practically-politically difficult, the proposal of minimal means is burdened not only by its threateningly maximal moral and historical purposes, but by multiple additional independently intimidating justifications, each more disqualifyingly potentially persuasive than the last. Even a simple resort to the traditional, possibly indispensable arsenal of demagogy – the bloody shirt, the injury to honor, ethnic hatred, raw greed, abject fear – is gravely impaired, where not completely foreclosed. It would be too dangerous, which in this instance means “conceivably effective.”
- Immediate context: [wpspoiler name=”President Obama at G20 Summit on Threats and American Responsibility” style=”wpui-android”]
So the kinds of national security threats that we’re going to confront, they’re terrorist threats. They’re failed states. They are the proliferation of deadly weapons. And in those circumstances, you know, a president’s going to have to make a series of decisions about which one of these threats, over the long term, starts making us less and less safe. And where we can work internationally, we should.
There are going to be times, though, where, as is true here, the international community is stuck for a whole variety of political reasons. And if that’s the case, people are going to look to the United States and say, “What are you going to do about it?” And that’s not a responsibility that we always enjoy.
You know, there was a leader of a smaller country who I’ve spoken to over the last several days who said, you know, “I don’t envy you because I’m a small country and nobody expects me to do anything about chemical weapons around the world. They know I have no capacity to do something. And it’s tough because people do look to the United States.”
And the question for the American people is, is that responsibility that we’re willing to bear. And I believe that when you have a limited, proportional strike like this, not Iraq, not putting boots on the ground, not some long, drawn-out affair, not without any risks, but with manageable risks, that we should be willing to bear that responsibility.