There is no question that Syria has been ruled by the authoritarian al-Assad family since 1971, that the country’s human rights record is dismal, and that over 40,000 Syrians have been killed in a civil war that has been ongoing for almost two years.

The question is what the United States should or shouldn’t do about any of these things.

Senator John McCain thinks he knows the answer.

John McCain (born 1936) graduated from the Annapolis Naval Academy in 1958. After flight training, he spent some time on aircraft carriers in the Caribbean and Mediterranean Seas before volunteering for combat duty in Vietnam. In 1967 Lieutenant Commander McCain began bombing runs over North Vietnam. He was shot down on his twenty-third bombing mission and held as a prisoner of war for five years. After his release in 1973, McCain resumed his naval service until his retirement in 1981. While in the Navy, he earned the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Legion of Merit, Purple Heart, and the Distinguished Flying Cross. After leaving the military, McCain began his career in politics. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1982. After two terms there, he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1986, and has been there ever since.

It doesn’t matter what has taken place in Syria; it doesn’t matter what one side has done to the other side. The simple fact is this: McCain is not only taking sides in a civil war, he is trying to get the U.S. government to take sides as well. McCain’s proposals could be dismissed as the ravings of a mad man but for the facts that he is not the only member of Congress who favors regime change in Syria, many interventionists on the left and the right feel the same way, and millions of American are willing to “support the troops” no matter where they go, what they do, or how long they stay.McCain has been in the news of late because while on a trip to the Middle East to meet with officials from Egypt and Lebanon, speak at the World Economic Forum in Jordan, and visit American troops in Turkey, he also met with leaders of the Syrian opposition in Turkey and inside the Syrian border. McCain, who never met a war or a troop surge he didn’t like, wants to expand the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) that has been used by Presidents Bush and Obama to justify all manner of military interventions. If it were up to McCain, the United States would already be bombing Syria on behalf of the allies of al-Qaeda.

Contrast McCain’s foreign policy proposals with those of Thomas Jefferson.

In addition to being the president of the United States for two terms (1800 & 1804), Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) was a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses (1769), a delegate to the Continental Congress (1775), the governor of Virginia (1779), a minister to France (1785), the first Secretary of State (1789), the vice president of the United States (1796), and the founder of the University of Virginia (1810).

I have used my best endeavors to keep our country uncommitted in the troubles which afflict Europe, and which assail us on every side.Jefferson not only believed in a foreign policy of nonintervention, he believed in a foreign policy of neutrality:

The satisfaction you express, fellow citizens, that my endeavors have been unremitting to preserve the peace and independence of our country, and that a faithful neutrality has been observed towards all the contending powers, is highly grateful to me.

Since this happy separation, our nation has wisely avoided entangling itself in the system of European interests, has taken no sidebetween its rival powers, attached itself to none of its ever-changing confederacies.

No one nation has a right to sit in judgment over another.

In the course of this conflict, let it be our endeavor, as it is our interest and desire, to cultivate the friendship of the belligerent nations by every act of justice and of incessant kindness; to receive their armed vessels with hospitality from the distresses of the sea, but to administer the means of annoyance to none; to establish in our harbors such a police as may maintain law and order; to restrain our citizens from embarking individually in a war in which their country takes no part.

We ask for peace and justice from all nations; and we will remain uprightly neutral in fact.

No nation has strove more than we have done to merit the peace of all by the most rigorous impartiality to all.

We have produced proofs, from the most enlightened and approved writers on the subject, that a neutral nation must, in all things relating to the war, observe an exact impartiality towards the parties.

I have used my best endeavors to keep our country uncommitted in the troubles which afflict Europe, and which assail us on every side.

Neutrality was the foreign policy of the Founding Fathers. Whatever their shortcomings, foreign policy was not one of them. Neutrality is an “America first” foreign policy. Neutrality is a moral foreign policy. Neutrality preserves American blood and treasure. Neutrality ensures a noninterventionist foreign policy. Neutrality is a sane foreign policy.

Not neutrality unless one side uses some particular weapon; not neutrality until one side commits some particular atrocity – neutrality no matter what.

If Senator McCain feels so strongly in favor of one side in Syria’s civil war, then instead of pulling a public relations stunt he should go to Syria and fight – like Nicole Lynn Mansfield did.

Senator McCain is a third generation Navy man. His son, John McCain IV, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2009, and is a helicopter pilot. If McCain feels so strongly in favor of one side in Syria’s civil war, then let his son lead the way. American families have lost enough of their sons in the senseless wars Iraq and Afghanistan that McCain has always supported.

The foreign policy of Jefferson or McCain – only one puts America first, only one is moral, only one preserves American blood and treasure, only one ensures a noninterventionist foreign policy, only one is sane, and it is not McCain’s.

Copyright © 2013 by Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.

Laurence M. Vance

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