C'mon, fellow lefties, let's intervene in Syria

My own position reflects the historical stance of the American and European left going back to the American and French revolutions. The left in the United States and Europe repeatedly pressured sympathetic governments to defend liberty and independence internationally. Nichols, following the lead of other anti-interventionists on the left and right, quotes John Quincy Adams from 1821 saying that America “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.” But it’s worth looking at the context in which Adams made that statement. A whole variety of movements, editorial pages, and politicians, including Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, were urging Adams to back the Greek struggle for independence against the Turks and Latin American countries’ struggles against Spanish rule. There were a few hotheads calling for the U.S. Navy to steam into the Aegean, but the bulk of proposals, and the ones that concerned Adams, were for recognition or for sending emissaries to the Greeks or Latin Americans. But Adams rejected any initiative.

Over the next 150 years, the left in the U.S. and Europe has urged support for the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Spanish Republicans in the Civil War, the African National Congress in apartheid-era South Africa, and independence for Algeria, Vietnam, and the Portuguese colonies in Africa. Henry Wallace—recently held up by Oliver Stone as a paragon of the left—supported American intervention in the Korean peninsula in 1950. Until recently, the left has always drawn a distinction between these kind of interventions and interventions aimed at buttressing imperial or neo-imperial rule. So the left opposed intervention in Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, and Iraq. But operating in the shadow of these fiascos, much of the left today has refused to back any intervention. That has included Syria today, the Balkans in the mid-1990s, and, incredibly, the attempt to drive Iraq out of Kuwait in 1991.