Is the Syrian “crisis” a distraction from real domestic issues?

chicago_landscape-1920x1080For the last three weeks the world has heard Mr. Obama, in his capacity of President of the United States, explain why military action is an essential response owed to Syria for their use of chemical weapons.  Even as late as September 6, 2013, the Obama administration claimed that between 1,300 and 1,400 were killed as a result of Assad’s use of chemical weapons.  Since the early days after this tragedy has unfolded, the American Left has clamoured to whip up the drums of war.  Each morning as I wade my way through the various news websites I read, I have seen commentators for CNN, NBC, MSNBC, and the Huffington Post spell out justification of why American military action, even if unilateral, must be considered as the right thing to do.

During Mr. Obama’s first term as president, two of his advisors, Mr. David Axelrod and Mr. Rahm Emanuel were frequently quoted by Fox News and numerous right leaning news sources as claiming that “a good crisis should never go to waste.”  The crisis in Syria leaves little room for doubt that it will become another in a long list of crisis issues that have been used for political gain for the Obama administration. With the House of Representatives still firmly under the control of the Republican Party, it was evident from early news reports that the media and the administration were eager to paint Republican leadership as obstructionist and placing partisan politics before national security. Mr. Obama and his political advisors were more than willing to sacrifice the left elements within the Democratic Party to assure the American voter understood that it is the Republican Party that is the enemy of true national security and not the chemical weapons that may still be in the hands of the Syrian government or those in rebellion against the Assad regime.

Yes, it is a tragedy that 1,400 people have are now dead in Syria. It is a tragedy that men, women, and children were indiscriminately killed by a weapon of war that has been outlawed by numerous treaties.  While it is a worldwide tragedy that such weapons have been used, there are other serious tragedies – some which are within our own cities – that demands attention.  Right now, the United States has seen a near stagnant economy; unemployment remains between seven to eight percent, not because of steady job growth but the sheer number of American workers that are now unemployed and are no longer trying to find employment.  The jobs that are being produced are part time (under 30 hours) and have no prospects of promotion or benefits.   Within Chicago alone, there have been 300 homicides and 1,700 injured during the commission of crimes since January 2013. Added to this is that other  American cities, such as Philadelphia, Houston, Los Angeles, and Detroit are also experiencing higher homicide rates than was reported a year ago today.

Even today, during a press conference that is scheduled to take place, Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to continue to make the case why a military option must remain a valid option for the Obama Administration. This amid new fears of a strengthening recession as the price of crude oil topped $109 per barrel and a report that indicates that the growth of employment opportunities in the current economy has been within the food service industry – women, about a third who hold college degrees – are increasingly employed as waitresses.(1)  The dollar plunged to its lowest trading value in seven months and more economists are alarmed at the continued quantitative easing policy of the fed that is currently fueling the stock market gains.  More Americans are currently receiving food stamp assistance than any other period in American history; 13.6% of current American households receive some sort of food stamp assistance (September 2013) versus 8.6% at the lowest point of the recession in 2008 during the presidency of George W. Bush.(2)  Any of these economic problems is a serious issue by itself; when considered all together, there is the potential for a complete realignment of the Senate in 2014 and the presidency in 2016.

In all fairness, it has been the strategy of nearly every administration to bring national attention and focus to external events as a means to redirect public attention and frustrations away from domestic issues.  During a faltering economy at the end of the nineteenth century, both Democratic and Republican progressives were in favor of the War with Spain as a means to secure more natural resources, to increase foreign trade, and to implement new domestic policies that were designed to limit opposition to much of the progressive agenda. The McKinley and Roosevelt administrations used the War with Spain and the following Philippine War provided an external distraction to the sagging economy, debate over the rights of women and African-Americans, and environmental conservation concerns.

The pattern repeated itself under the administration of Woodrow Wilson and the progressives under his era with American involvement in Europe during World War I.  Woodrow Wilson and his allies had become convinced that a international body of nations – the League of Nations – could solve all future international problems.  It would be his die-hard attempts to mingle the acceptance of the Charter of the League of Nations with the Treaty of Versailles as a means to end World War I in a single treaty that would be his ultimate political and personal failure.  Facing increased public opposition to his War on Poverty, the newly enacted draft, civil rights, and other domestic issues, President Lyndon B. Johnson attempted to concentrate America’s domestic frustrations on the external threat of Vietnam.  While I do realize that this is a pessimistic view of external events as distractions, I still must pose the question, “Why Syria and why now?”

Continued on next page.

Alan Simmons

Alan Simmons is an adjunct instructor of history at Henderson Community College. He has been teaching at the college/university level since 2004. Within the scope of his degrees, his areas of emphasis are U.S. foreign policy, public policy history, political history, and U.S. history.

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