Where to Begin?

Where to Begin?

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

As the Jewish New Year approaches there is always so much to do and so much on the mind of all Jews, especially of a very personal, intimate, and familial nature.  This year, as in others, this remains the case.

The past two weeks, however, have presented a set of questions that make one need to at least for a bit jump away from the private, personal considerations and contemplate the very serious, grave issues which face the American people. The very future role of the United States as a beacon of strength, power, and morality in the world is being challenged.

The curious fact is that America’s place in the world is being tested not only from without but from within. There is a genuine issue here of who is leading this country both internally and internationally. Is the President in charge? Are the Secretaries of State and Defense mere spokespersons? Does the National Security Council have proper gravitas and experience to weigh all the variables at stake or are they being driven by their own ideological orientations? Can the opposition in Congress which has refused to participate in governing for the past five years, suddenly taken responsibility for leadership? Is the President capable of making the hard decisions for which he was elected? Has everything in Washington today come down to politics; political winners and losers? The questions are gut rendering and scary, but there is a model of leadership in Washington today that has not been seen for at least 80 years and perhaps as far back as the 19th Century.

America has always struggled between an inward looking perspective from the days of President George Washington’s warning and then Thomas Jefferson’s specific call to the nation to “beware of entangling alliances”, to the internationalist innovations which were first and most clearly championed by President Wilson in his Fourteen Points.  What the equivocating and posturing over what the U.S. ought to do about the Syrians gassing their own people is—at a philosophical level—this precise debate.

While we will consider the specifics of what is transpiring in this country and throughout the world in subsequent postings, it is essential for Americans and all people of good intent to consider one simple fact: If the United States does not develop a strategy to address the horror which has begun now in Syria, there is no reason to assume that the type of national behavior exhibited by Syria will not become an acceptable norm throughout the region. This could lead to a series of events that might make even the Holocaust pale in comparison.

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