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From Nazis to Syria: How Should America Deal With Dictators?

by Dale Schlundt, published

In the context of such political contention in the United States and around the world, it is reassuring that a point which can be agreed upon is that the use of chemical weapons is simply unacceptable. One must applaud the condemnation of them and our resolve in halting their use.

However, the U.S., British, and French response to Syria’s use of such tactics raises multiple concerns about the future. While the administration stated it was focused on “deterring” the future use of chemical warfare, two fundamental questions remain:

Was the response sufficient and how does the U.S. refrain from becoming overly involved in another international conflict?

History illustrates how slight involvement in foreign affairs can lead to greater involvement in a relatively quick timespan. Consider the Second World War. In retrospect there is no question the Nazi and Japanese regimes and ideology needed to be confronted.

There are two similar questions from that era that may be applied to the volatile context of today.

The first is what allowed those totalitarian regimes to expand to the point that it became a second world war? While both countries expanded, those not directly invaded enabled the rogue regimes by their lack of adequate response in opposing them.

By the end of the 1930s, the point of no return appeared close, specifically in Europe. Hence the phrase, “nip it in the bud,” seemed like an understatement -- both then and now.

The second question is how did this result in American intervention? This answer is obviously seen partially in the former.

But it would be oversimplifying America’s path to war to simply state Europe should have enforced the Treaty of Versailles in regards to Hitler’s actions, for instance. The First World War left a significant impression, which in part led to Germany’s aggression as well as the insignificant response to it.

Despite the overarching sentiment of isolationism, incrementally America became more involved through aid to its allies prior to joining the war.

Additionally, with economic sanctions and a presence in the Pacific, the U.S. came closer to war with Japan. Taken as a whole, that limited, yet growing U.S. involvement arguably made war practically inevitable when considering the ideology of expansion adopted by the two rogue nations.

While entry into the Second World War was easily justified and yielded advantageous results, other wars that America has entered into, through similar paths, have had different outcomes. Either way, the two core questions remain the same.

It is interesting that America’s rise as a world leader following WWII is one of several prominent reasons that the U.S. struck Syria once again in 2018. Anyone who cares, even in the least for humanity, should applaud that move.

But let us not forget the history of the 20th century. We must ask the crucial questions of whether or not enough was done to protect the innocent from such future atrocities and sustain U.S. leadership in the region -- but not so much as to become a catalyst for America to be pulled into another extended and costly foreign conflict.

As with all international issues and debates, there is rarely a clear answer, but history lends itself well to the pursuit of one.

Photo Credit: Rena Schild /

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