As we approach the fiscal cliff we also approach another cliff. In recent years the United States has assumed the responsibility for defending and freeing millions of people in distant lands. We have fought terrorism, which is understandable; but we have also interested ourselves in the liberation of the Arab peoples from tyrannical rulers in Egypt, Libya and Syria. Meanwhile, we have paid enormous sums of money to refashion Iraq into a democracy – though this democracy is always on the point of breaking up. We have also been trying to make a democracy out of Afghanistan. We have poured billions of dollars into these countries. There is no end to our largesse.
Perhaps you have noticed our new principle – the one which proclaims that everybody deserves a free lunch, and a free public education, and a job, and health care. Well, this principle has an international aspect; namely, that everyone on earth deserves to be rescued by the U.S. military and brought under democracy. How we pay for all this is anyone’s guess. Of course we cannot help paying for it, and we cannot help going broke for it. It seems we have to save the planet, even if we bankrupt ourselves and the planet along with us.
Take the case of Syria, where the rebellion against the Bashar Assad regime is heating up. This morning DEBKAFile  is reporting that rebels have captured Syria’s biggest chemical weapons storehouse east of Aleppo. Last week British Foreign Secretary William Hague told Parliament of evidence that the Assad regime was preparing to use chemical weapons against the rebels. This claim has been seconded by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta who said, “The intelligence we have causes serious concerns…. The president of the United States has made very clear there will be consequences … if the Assad regime makes a terrible mistake by using these chemical weapons on their own people.”
With the world economy on the brink, and the fiscal cliff approaching, why should the United States and its allies concern themselves with the use of chemical weapons in the course of a civil war that has nothing to do with the United States and poses no direct threat to anyone outside of Syria? But the reader must realize that the logic of our latter-day humanitarianism is to embrace intervention. Whether we are intervening to save the auto industry, the banks, or Greece; the assumption is always that we are responsible for saving everyone and everything. Nothing bad can be allowed to happen.
Last year it was revealed that the first audit of the Federal Reserve turned up $16 trillion in loans to prop up banks and other institutions. Too big to fail is just another dirty sock stuffed into the maw of destiny. And certainly, that means we cannot allow Assad to use chemical weapons against the rebels in Syria. But there is a strange contradiction in this: President Obama’s warning to the Assad regime contradicts the president’s preferred solution for the “fiscal cliff” problem; for the president wants to eat his cake and have it. He wants to cut the defense budget, and he wants to use American forces to stop a dictator from gassing his own people. But when, pray tell, will Obama realize that he cannot do both for much longer?
If the United States is to remain the world’s policeman, then we must put our fiscal house in order without large-scale military cuts. But then, putting our house in order would imply a more negative attitude toward government intervention that would quite naturally be applied to foreign affairs; so we see that our problem is intrinsic, and so is the solution. It now appears we cannot save ourselves because we cannot overthrow our new ruling principle.
Consider the situation in a nutshell: (1) by attempting to save everyone we bankrupt ourselves; (2) so that we cannot even save ourselves; (3) and all is lost. And so, in a utopian attempt to make everything turn out well – everything must turn out badly. In this column I have written before of the sociological law of “reverse intention” and “opposite outcomes.” We all remember the “war to end all wars” (which didn’t), and the war on poverty, the war on drugs, etc. To every government action there is an equal and opposite reaction. No doubt we will learn that the government’s fight against global warming coincides with the start of the next Ice Age, and that the bailouts of 2008 will signify the total bankruptcy of everyone in 2013. So why shouldn’t we bomb Syria and overthrow Assad today, if only to guarantee the rise of an even more dangerous regime tomorrow? This is what government does, after all.
You might ask again about Assad’s chemical weapons. God forbid that anyone uses weapons against civilians; but chemical weapons are not designed for use against civilians. Delivered by artillery or missiles, chemical warheads are more effective when used on soldiers in open ground than against civilians in a city. As might be readily apparent, civilians can shelter themselves in buildings and basements where the gas cannot effectively penetrate in most cases. Clearly, chemical weapons are designed for the battlefield – not for use against cities.
Nevertheless, chemical warfare is a hot-button topic that alarms Western politicians and brings out their humanitarian concerns. Ironically it is these humanitarian concerns that presently push the U.S. and/or NATO to threaten Syria with attacks which, in turn, provoke a reaction from Syria’s ally Russia. And so we have to ask how far the United States wants to go? The whole reason we did not launch World War III against Russia during the Cold War was for the simple reason that destroying the world was not a good way to save it. And now that America has inferior missiles to those deployed by Russia we are suddenly ready for a confrontation with Russia in the Eastern Mediterranean?
While Russia and China continue to build up their military power, the West continues to build down. It is not merely the United States that is cutting back military spending. As NBC News reported last October, “Western defense budget cuts may be unstoppable.”  But that’s okay, Right? As we’ve all been told, U.S. defense spending “dwarfs the rest of the world.”  The distortion in these figures, of course, is that China doesn’t count all its weapons or soldiers’ pay in its defense budget, and neither does Russia. And then, we have become so profligate in our spending here, that the Pentagon is the biggest welfare provider of all. Our soldiers and sailors are paid far more than the soldiers and sailors of other countries; consider their benefits packages alone!
It is a tough situation to be in. We are approaching a fiscal cliff. We want to give money to everybody, we want to save everybody. But in the end we’re not going to save ourselves. There seems to be no opening, no passage, through which we can escape the consequences of our decadence. As Gustave Le Bon explained over a hundred years ago: “[A person of superior intelligence knows] that those nations which are on the slope of decadence will continue to descend. He knows that institutions cannot be changed at the will of legislators, and seeing that the Socialists desire entirely to overthrow the institutions on which our civilizations repose, he can readily predict the catastrophe which will follow such events.”