Everyone is talking about what we should be doing in response to the discovery of the use of chemical weapons in Syria. But what no one seems to be acknowledging, from the most vocal advocates for peace to the staunchest hawks, is that our efforts are destined to fail, regardless of what we do.
I understand the persistent calls for peace, and given the present situation, I would be among those in vocal opposition of intervention in Syria with any use of military force. I resonate with Pope Francis when he says that no peaceful outcomes are realized through the use of violence. This is prophetic, and I can only pray that such sentiments cling to the hearts of our leaders as they discern a path forward.
But I also understand the calls for aggressive intervention, though I may not agree with them. I recognize that some feel a sense of moral obligation to do anything we can to stop the slaughter of innocents, even if it means that others may die in the process. Of course, this raises any number of questions about our moral authority on an international scale, but regardless of this, our efforts in Syria will not lead to a peaceful or satisfying conclusion, period.
The truth is that our foreign policy in the United States is based on a “too little, too late” reactionary philosophy that only calls us to action once a situation has already become untenable. We have allowed these seeds of dissent, despair and violence germinate for years, if not decades, and in many cases we have been complicit in selling them particularly in the Middle East. We wage proxy wars in regions unable to hold us at arms length. We prop up certain dictatorships while condemning others, all based on how expediently their regimes help us realize our strategic and economic goals.
We cry foul when evidence is discovered of those rulers using immoral force to maintain power, while largely ignoring the tens of thousands who die every year in the region from unnecessary disease and malnourishment.
The United States will spend about $23 billion in offering foreign aid to other countries this year. This amounts to less than half of one percent of our more than $3.5 trillion dollar annual budget. Our military budget for the year, meanwhile, tops $600 billion. Stated simply, we spend more than $20 on maintaining a military global presence for every one dollar we spend on aid to those in need. If there is any question about where our priorities lay as a nation, we need only look at how we spend our money – or rather, the money we borrow from other nations.
But even this is not getting to the heart of the real issue. Granted, it is always more politically expedient to fund military equipment and personnel that it is to raise support for foreign aid. But fundamental to the apparent impasse at which we find ourselves in Syria, among many other places in the world at present, is a fundamental lack of inspired human imagination. Either we lack the imaginative capacity to see the world as possibly different than it is now and has been in the past, or we lack the desire to really see a change in any meaningful way.
Yes, we send aid and/or military force was a problem has become so painfully obvious that we cannot pretend to ignore it. But on the whole, we are collectively more intent on preserving a fundamentally immoral and unjust way of life in our corner of the world which requires the exploitation of those unable to stop us. We invest our decidedly limited aid efforts in places where it tends to be most advantageous to us keeping things more or less the way they already are. We will send tokens of assistance overseas, so long as it does not change the price of our consumable goods or affect the overall lifestyle to which we have become so very accustomed.
On the one hand, we ask, “what is the cost of peace?” On the other hand, we already know the answer if we are truly honest. Jesus pointed the way, and he explained in no uncertain terms what the costs would be. So until our calls for peace are absent of the caveats of self-interest that prohibit them from being truly legitimate, we will get what we’ve already got. Nothing much will really change.