VR Simulation: President of the United States

You are the President of the United States. You have been for 5 years. You have a lot to gloat about: You have overhauled health care system, negotiated a non-nuclear agreement with Iran, made strategic alliance with many Asian countries, passed international climate change treaty, among many others. You feel pretty good about yourself. After another day of hard work you head out of oval office with a beer and some peanuts in your hand and head to your residence, spring in your steps.

4 a.m. Your National Security Advisor breaks through your bedroom door and shouts, “Syria dictator, Bashar al-Assad, is killing everyone! Almost 500,000 people have died! And more than 12 million people are fleeing or are trapped in Syria without food and water and medicine! This is the greatest catastrophe since WWII!”

Flying to the Situation Room you find all your team members there. Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, National Security Advisor who is now panting after catching up to you, his spin expert deputy, and so on. Their grim faces fixed at yours are saying one thing:

What will you do?

On a large screen in front of the table are your options — what to do and what will result:

You turn to your Deputy National Security Advisor and ask, “why would people dislike me if I get involved?”

“Because,” he replies, “of the Iraq War. People see us doing anything in Middle East, and they immediately think of Iraq War. They don’t care if we save lives. Even if they do care initially, wait until job growth slows a little bit or a terrorist attack happens somewhere in the West. Even if they are entirely unrelated, people will make a connection. Our opponents in Congress will make a connection for them.”

“But…”

“And don’t think Russia and Assad will sit around peacefully. They will try to influence our politics. They can even kill civilians and say that that happened because we attacked or got involved. They will manipulate our public. And our opponents in Congress will be more than happy to go along with them.”

“But…”

“Oh, and what will that guy running for president say?” he added. “He’ll say, ‘Look, he has risked American lives for Syrian lives. He’s not a patriot. He’s not an American. I told you so. Just look at his middle name.’”

“But…”

“Look at Rwandan Genocide in 1994. I’m a strong liberal, but do any of us hold anything against Bill Clinton for not saving 800,000 people? No, he’s very popular. And all the other presidents who looked the other way during massacres. Just say civil war and keep out of it. People understand.”

“I agree,” says your another advisor. “Just keep saying civil war. And say only what’s related to attacking terrorists. Nothing about Syria. Anytime you talk about Syria, your ratings will drop. And if you really have to talk about Syria, keep saying you have looked at every single option and that there is no good option.”

You look around again at the grim faces. From far away your Secretary of State is pulling his hair to say something to you but your White House staff are covering his mouth.

Then you go back to looking at the chart.

What will you do?