The recent bombing attacks in Syria and the outright civilian slaughter unfolding behind its borders is but one link in a long chain of epic state collapses trailing back beyond the fall of Rome. Instability is inherent to autocratic regimes: the more concentrated the power, the less secure the system.
A natural state of equality reigns between all human beings, in spite of our diverse personal attributes, so that any discrepancy between the political power of one individual, or one group, and another must eventually prove itself to be a pretense and eventually collapse.
Personal character alone, as demonstrated by the actions of individuals or by their inaction, elevates one human being above another — but even then only in a few moments of truth.
Yet personal character, like precious metals, does have its rarer veins. It isn’t equally distributed among all mankind or among all regions of Earth. Mankind’s very exodus from Africa displayed within humanity varying strains of curiosity and intrepidity — not to mention avarice and recklessness.
In centuries past, for example, the crossing of the Atlantic to America revealed a different sort of character than that possessed by those who stayed behind. Thus the American character is of an even rarer, further removed vein. We are a people whose forefathers proved time and again they would not live under oppression — they would emigrate where possible or fight the powers that be for rights denied and for that natural equality perverted by monarchy and by slavery.
Were we aided in our struggles by other nations? Undoubtedly yes. But these were not the selfless sacrifices of nations who sought only the natural equality of all. These were the very countries whose oppressive governments drove us across the Atlantic in great numbers.
So what of peoples in distant eastern reaches of the globe, whose inherited character seems less even tempered or less well refined? Ought we, in the spirit of our natural equality, extend a helping hand backward across the wide oceans to aid in their elevation to our natural state? Do they deserve our benefit of the doubt as to their potential for redemption?
With the fall of ancient Rome no nation-states stood silently by, as we do today, unwilling to save their people, let alone their empire. But what might have been the result had the Roman empire been spared? Perhaps we would still see a now centuries-long succession of emperors as well as popes?
But what of the Roman people themselves, including the emperor’s legions? Were the spoils of war and the games and the gladiatorial events of the Colosseum really so intoxicating that political unrest from within was effectively quashed, until the Romans were conquered from without? And would such a coarse strain of character be worthy of sacrifices by people of an even rarer character?
In the case of Syria we find a people who until very recently have remained complacent under autocratic regimes for decades, yet divided among themselves by ethnic and sectarian loyalties. What sort of character does this demonstrate? Are there pockets of rebels who possess our sense of a universal human equality — those not simply fighting for their own survival or for a victory over rival factions? How would they be identified at this point? Why have they not yet emigrated or fled?
When our own forefathers were oppressed, or even just marginalized in their own respective homelands, they did not stay — neither to tolerate the oppression nor to return the intolerance and the prejudice they faced. They left for America. And therein they proved to be of a different sort of character.
It is neither the responsibility of the U.S. nor of any nation beyond those that comprise the Middle East itself either to draw up or to impose a plan for lasting civil order. The survival of any administration or regime and in fact of any nation hinges upon the capacity of a great majority of its citizenry to govern their own lives, to respect the lives of their fellow citizens — and to stand up against those who won’t.
If the citizens of a country are incapable of such civil sophistication and so require a dictatorial regime to maintain order; or if they have the necessary sophistication but lack the courage to fight for that order, then no amount of foreign intervention will ever create a stable nation.