Syndicated columnist and best-selling author Jonathan Alter served up sharp criticism of what he sees as a new isolationist shift in American politics, telling Newsmax that he has been “completely surprised” by the sharp anti-war, neo-isolationist fervor that has swept the country since President Obama announced his intention to attack Syrian strongman Bashar Assad’s regime.
Alter, a presidential historian as well as a journalist, has written two books on the Obama presidency, The Promise,
and The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies.
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Speaking immediately after the conclusion of President Obama’s national televised address on Tuesday night, the Bloomberg columnist conceded the administration’s response to the Syrian issue “has been not very skillfully handled up to now.”
But he gave the president strong marks Tuesday evening for presenting a compelling case for why the United States must respond to an apparent, blatant violation of international and humanitarian norms regarding Assad’s apparent use of chemical weapons on his own people.
Alter said he could never have predicted the wave of anti-war sentiment that has suddenly swept the United States.
“I’ve been completely surprised by it. I grossly underestimated how much isolationism there is in the United States now on both the left and the right,” Alter told Newsmax. “This [response to Assad] is not that hard of a call.”
The proposed action in Syria would reflect the well-established norms for United States military action, Alter said.
“We have the power to do this, we have morality on our side, we have our global role to shoulder, a global burden as we’ve long shouldered, as the president said tonight. It’s the people who don’t want to do this who represent a departure from our traditions,” he told Newsmax.
Alter added he finds “really disturbing” the notion that an exercise of U.S. military strength in support of international norms “is out of bounds, or is inconsistent with the role of the United States.”
Some critics have charged the administration’s mixed messaging on whether to attack Assad had emboldened Iran’s theocratic leaders. But the real culprit in encouraging the mullahs, Alter said, is the apparent willingness of many American voters to pull back from America’s traditional role of promoting international peace and stability.
“The only thing that would encourage the mullahs in Iran is if we do not respond to the use of WMD in Syria,” he says.
Alter warned against what he fears may be an inclination among some to “retreat into fortress America.”
“That doesn’t work,” he says. “The world is too small for that. We just can’t be operating that way.
“That doesn’t mean we need to get bogged down in the Middle East,” he hastened to add. “But the idea that we have this military, but might not use it unless we’re attacked -- that that’s the purpose of the greatest military in world history? No.”
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