Idealism or Realism When It Comes to Syria?

Should the US engage militarily in Syria? A soldier’s thoughtful consideration:

One unanticipated effect of my service in Iraq has been the running debate in my head about what justifies our involvement in future conflicts. I’m not naïve enough to ignore the widespread perception that the conflict I served in was an unnecessary mistake – a strategic blunder made by policy makers who expected quick victory, but which instead devolved into a nearly decade-long slog of bloodletting. Sometimes the wars we get involved in are worth the cost, and sometimes they aren’t. Anecdotally, at least, it seems the majority of Americans think that mine wasn’t.

I often agree, and with the heavy heart of a man who has watched other men die, I’m far more hesitant to support military action these days. It wasn’t always this way.

via Part 1: Idealism or Realism When It Comes to Syria? – NYTimes.com.

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9 thoughts on “Idealism or Realism When It Comes to Syria?

  1. clintkunz says:

    Dan Savage has a unique perspective on the matter. I thought it was interesting when he talked about the students at West Point. He said that after, “Al Qaeda attacked America… The seniors were chomping at the bit to get into the fight, and the younger cadets even worried that they might miss the war altogether.” Psychologically Savage and his classmates were eager to bring justice to the bad guys. However, his opinion changed after he saw friends die, he started to ask whether the costs were worth the sacrifice.
    In economics, sunk costs are retrospective costs that have been occurred and cannot be recovered. I think that many people, including Dan Savage, are viewing the sunk costs of recent conflicts and doubting any decision to move forward. Both sides of the argument to some degree fear the future. We need leaders today who care about others, let go of pride, and act according to the best conscience available.

  2. shannonmelissa22 says:

    This article is really interesting because it is written from a perspective that doesn’t always make headlines- the perspective of a soldier. I think it is so interesting that he grew up with such a weird idea of how war is…how the guns are cool, the technology is exciting, and that fighting makes you a hero. Dan didn’t even really consider the implications of starting a war with Afghanistan or Iraq…he says he just wanted to go stop the bullies in the middle east. It was so interesting to read how his views shifted so drastically once he was personally involved with the combat…once his friends were being killed. I think that if every American was so personally affected by the war, they wouldn’t be so keen to jump into a conflict.

  3. trawson7 says:

    I have always been torn between these two mindsets- idealism and realism- when it comes to intervention in Syria. The realist in me agrees with Savage and doesn’t trust a single thing Putin (although I’m completely fascinated by him) nor Assad says. Why shouldn’t we just nip the whole issue in the bud and be done with it? But I also realize that war is just that: war. It’s nasty and bloody and costs a lot of lives and breaks up a lot of families, and I think we need to be extra careful about what we think is worth all of that suffering. As Savage says, is helping these rebel groups aligned with Al-Qaeda really the best thing we could be doing? No, definitely not. But should we sit back and allow Obama to lessen our international standing even further? I don’t know about that either. I guess that’s what makes this such a complicated issue. The realist in each of us wants to swoop in in one quick motion and take out Assad and all of his inhumanity, but there’s an idealist in each of us somewhere too that cries for the families that get torn apart in the process. What a world we live in.

  4. kttoolson says:

    I think that Dan Savage put into words what many Americans are thinking. My brother-in-law is a former marine and so the idea of sending people that have families is close to home. It is apparent that at one time Savage believed in a realist approach to war, until he watched his brothers die and lived through the war and the lack of support from American citizens. I wonder how many of us would switch to idealism if we really knew what war was about. It was very interesting to me how he put our current predicament. Are we really going because we are just guilty for sitting back and watching thousands of people be murdered by their government and do we really understand the consequences of our actions. We cannot afford to repeat what has happened in the last decade.

    • madeleineary says:

      This mentality, however easy to fall into, is a logical fallacy. The assumption that if something is superficially similar to another occurrence and therefore should be treated the same is like saying that a duck is a bird and a peregrine falcon is a bird, therefore all peregrine falcons will want to eat grass and swim. We should look at the past as a precedent for the future, however, the differences in the circumstances need to be observed and weighed separately of past mistakes. Perhaps it is the right thing to go in this time, and, we are unlucky enough that this incident happened after the war in Iraq instead of before.

  5. josephdecker says:

    It is heart-wrenching to hear of the atrocities committed by Assad against his own people in Syria. The chemical weapons attack last month killed over 1000 people including women and children. Part of me, like Savage when he was younger, feels like America should engage in a military strike and punish the “bad guys”. However, the realist in me thinks otherwise. Savage’s article provides an insightful perspective on war from a soldier’s point of view. And this is from someone who was gung-ho about war before he experienced it personally himself. Savage said, “In the months after [my friends] deaths, I wondered what we – my unit and my country – had accomplished during our time in [Iraq]. What did my men die for? What in the world could possibly be worth such a sacrifice, or the nine years of my own life that I spent willing to die for America in a conflict which many view in retrospect as a poor idea, myself included?”. I believe war is necessary when the reason for participation is substantial, when it is clear who enemies and allies are, and when there is sufficient public support. Why are we suddenly so concerned about 1400 people who died when there has already been over 100,000 people killed in the Syrian civil war? Can’t conventional weapons be just as indiscriminate as chemical weapons? Should we really help the rebels when there are strong links to Al-Qaeda? Should we get involved in a foreign affair with such little public support here at home? A lack of support from a country’s people has to be extremely detrimental to a soldier’s morale.

  6. oliviaronna says:

    It’s interesting when he talks about being eight years old when Desert Storm happening, and his reaction to all the cool military gadgets/thinking war was cool. I was eight years old when 9/11 happened, and my third-grade knowledge also limited my perceptions of how war and terrorist attacks really affected a nation. His tale of his experiences with war are super interesting. Most Americans (and policymakers) have never had the experience of knowing what fighting in a war really feels like. Like he said, being in the military started to be a lot less fun when people he knew started to die. I personally believe that we really need to listen to the voices of the soldiers to better understand just how risky it is to send troops into combat. I also like what he said about our role in regime changes. We cannot just burst in/control a country not ready for our idea of democracy. Neither I nor Dan has the answers, but we both agree that it is important to lessen the military-civilian gap in this country.

  7. rgettys says:

    I feel of a kin opinion with Mr. Savage. As for what we learned in class about a well organized argument, he did it. He is not just some GI in the trenches, this is a smart man writing this paper, who has lots of influence and a high education, but his writing makes me feel like we are buddies that grew up eating pizza and playing sports together.

    His argument that bombing Syria would have potential minimal impact and choosing a side in Syria as being an equally difficult matter are spot on. I hope that diplomacy will have a real effect and Assad will be displaced from power with someone that the US and Russia can trust. I feel like Russia supporting Assad could blight their long run ambitions of having perpetual open relations with Syria. I think sooner or later Assad will be displaced due to international pressure to not allow chemical weapons, mass killings, and dictatorships thrive.

  8. simonliuu says:

    I believe that good global leadership is a constant balancing act between idealism and realism. As many have commented in above, it’s important to consider both when making such an important decision as military engagement. Of course, it is bad to have and use chemical weapons (or any weapons at all), so ideally we would punish those who use them. Unfortunately, with the economy the way it is, perhaps we can’t realistically punish them without spending more money on a budget that can hardly support domestic programs, let alone enforce international law.

    This soldier’s perspective is important in considering the debate between idealism and realism. Unfortunately, I do not think that world leaders can truly factor in his personal story when making decisions for their country. When you are dealing with things on a macro scale, it seems that there will always be stories to support both sides of an issue. You read it in the news and see it in political debates all the time.

    “I spoke with Joe from Idaho who said X.”
    “When I visited Ohio, little 7 year-old Jimmy said Y.”

    In the end the main factors, in my opinion, that can truly influence your decision as a world leader are hard numbers and statistics, because it’s too difficult to put a number on humanity.

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