One of the many disappointing aspects of this year’s Presidential campaign has been the lack of a serious discourse on foreign affairs.
I’m not naïve. For understandable reasons, the anxieties of Americans about our economy, our future, and our security are driving the debate and dominating the discourse. But a President has an extraordinary responsibility to guide U.S. interests in the world, to use our diplomatic, economic and – if necessary – military assets wisely.
Because we are a Jewish organization, I realize that people will assume that when I talk about global concerns, I must be talking about Israel. In fact, I am not; though obviously I care deeply about the U.S.-Israel relationship. If anything, that’s one of the few foreign policy elements that almost all of the candidates have spoken to, so that, whether or not we like their positons, we can at least evaluate and discuss the candidates’ views on Israel.
I’m talking about other things that we care about deeply, like the collapse of Syria. Five years in, the death toll in this civil war is approaching an astounding half million people. The numbers of the displaced are now several million. The human rights violations defy accounting.
Syria is, as Roger Cohen put it last month, America’s shame, “a debacle of such dimensions that it may overshadow (President Obama’s) domestic achievements.”
The Boston JCRC is proud to have taken a leading role this past fall in developing a national Jewish communal consensus for advocacy (PDF) in support of the refugees fleeing Syria. We support increased funding for the refugee crisis. We advocate for an increase in the numbers of Syrian refugees that our nation welcomes. We reject expressions of xenophobia by civic and political leaders in their discussion of immigration to this country.
Even so, we have not advocated for a plan of action to resolve the conflict itself, to ending the unimaginable suffering that is driving the refugee crisis. The simple truth is that we have no shared consensus on what must be done to end the conflict itself. We do however have guiding values that inform how we as a Jewish community see our nation’s leadership in the world. For example:
- We believe in the importance of human dignity and we are deeply troubled by human rights violations wherever they occur.
- We affirm that the world is best served when nations are committed to ensuring the safety and protecting the rights of minorities.
- We support movement toward liberal democracy as the ideal form of government.
Even in enumerating these, we are mindful of practical realities that limit our nation’s ability to act upon them. We’re also conscious that these principles have and will bring people to significantly different conclusions on the course we should take in addressing global challenges.
While it is not on us to provide the answers to all of the world’s great challenges, it is on us, all of us, to say that certain matters, like the conflict in Syria, require urgent action. And even if we, as JCRC, have no consensus on what that action might be, we must demand that those who step up to lead our nation have a coherent plan of action.
It is simply unacceptable that some of those seeking the highest office in our nation have yet to assemble foreign policy teams. And it is intolerable that credible candidates to be our next President have not laid out their plans – a core vision, clearly articulated interests, and detailed strategies – for U.S. engagement with Syria.
Tragically, the civil war in Syria is not going to be resolved anytime soon. So we must demand that candidates address Syria; not because we know what the right answer is but rather because we have the right to know what their answer is, and we have the responsibility to ensure that we know their answers before we elect the next President.