Writes Garry Kasparov on New threats rose as U.S. apathy became policy:
Inaction can fracture alliances. Inaction can empower dictators and provoke terrorists and enflame regional conflicts. Inaction can slaughter innocent people and create millions of refugees. We have the horrific proof in Syria, where Barack Obama’s infamous “red line” has been painted over in blood.
….Social psychology documented the “bystander apathy effect” in the 1960s, a phenomenon in which the more people who witness a crisis together, the less likely any one of them is to help. Studies showed that while 70 percent of people alone will help a stranger in distress, the number drops to 40 percent when other people are in the room. Inaction is not only deadly, it’s contagious, and it applies to nations as well as to individuals.
The solution to this sort of paralysis on a nation-state level is to have strong global institutions and treaties that are binding and clear. For example, an agreement between countries to guarantee mutual defense or an organization that is bound to intervene to stop a genocide. In theory, contractual commitments and shared moral obligations will override the bystander effect. In practice, the fear of taking action is so strong that the leaders of the free world find excuse after excuse to ignore their commitments and their values.
These excuses range from feigned ignorance to legalistic pedantry to rhetorically reducing the national and international interests that must be protected. Hundreds of thousands slaughtered in Rwanda? We didn’t know. The Budapest Memorandum guarantees Ukrainian territorial integrity? Check the fine print, we’re technically not bound to defend them. Russian jets are crossing into Turkish territory? The North Atlantic Treaty Organization begs member nation Turkey not to invoke the mutual defense clause. Iraq and Syria are exploding into civil war? It’s a Middle Eastern problem. The civil wars are churning out terrorist groups and refugees reaching the West? It’s a European problem. Islamic State sympathizers killed 14 people in San Bernardino, the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil since 9/11? Our anti-IS strategy is the right one.
Obama and his fellow neo-isolationists are well aware that few are condemned and fewer are convicted of having the power to prevent a tragedy but refusing to do so, while a single death resulting from intervention will be denounced. A quarter-million deaths, a dozen terror attacks, a million refugees, these are politically acceptable consequences of inaction, but a single casualty from action, even attempting to prevent those horrors, is considered politically unacceptable.