Is President Obama going wobbly on Syria? No. He’s always been wobbly on Syria—and on pretty much everything else.
Still—despite everything, despite the infuriating incompetence and the irresponsible leaking and the weak-kneed hedging and the endless equivocating; despite the great likelihood that Obama will do much less than he should, much less effectively than he could; despite the ridiculous disavowal of regime change when he has previously called for regime change, and when regime change is the only serious way to deter prospective users of chemical weapons; despite his failure to articulate an easily articulated American national interest in punishing and indeed removing Assad—despite all this and much else besides, it would be disastrous for an American president to back off from the just and necessary use of military force when he has threatened it and prepared for it.
We therefore feel an obligation to persuade the president to follow through on his promises and threats. And since it’s unlikely President Obama will suddenly come to agree with The Weekly Standard on the desirable character of American foreign policy or the general nature of the Middle East, it occurred to us that maybe he could be convinced by a man of the left. But the American left, as Harvey Mansfield has put it, “has become hardly more than a trembling in the presence of illiberalism.” So here is one of Israel’s most prominent columnists, Ari Shavit, a self-described “left-wing journalist” and “anti-occupation peacenik.”
Shavit’s August 22 column in the left-wing Israeli newspaper Haaretz bore the headline “The end of the world is starting in Damascus.” Its subhed was, “If civilians can be gassed to death in 2013, we face the end of the world that purports to be moral and enlightened.” Here’s what Shavit had to say:
Can this really be happening? In the 21st century? Only a few hundred kilometers from where I’m sitting writing this piece? Can it be that only hours ago a tyrant used chemical weapons against his own people who were rebelling in the capital’s suburbs against his tyranny? . . . The eye refuses to believe the pictures the iPad is transmitting. The mind cannot grasp the reports the iPhone is delivering. After the taboos of using artillery, helicopters and missiles on civilians have been broken, the taboo of using unconventional weapons has apparently been shattered as well. . . .
No decent person can ignore what’s happening. What is supposed to be an enlightened world cannot remain silent. Each day, the Syrian civil war is taking on the chilling connotations of the Spanish Civil War. It heralds the end of an era and delineates the coming era.
It’s not only innocent victims being buried in Damascus, but the concept of enlightened Arab nationalism and the hope that the West has a conscience. Women and children who were apparently gassed to death are being buried in Damascus, along with the ideal of an international community and the illusion of international law. . . . It’s the end of the world that purports to be moral and enlightened. It’s the end of the world that sought to establish a reasonable international order of which the Middle East would be part.
Many in the West and Israel despise Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But what’s happening in Syria proves the validity of Netanyahu’s warning that the greatest danger to world peace in the 21st century is the combination of unconventional weapons and unconventional regimes. Lunatics really are insane. Barbarians are really barbaric. Huns will be Huns.
Those who act mercifully toward Huns bear direct responsibility for the fact that nuclear weapons are being built in Iran, chemical weapons are being used in Syria and doomsday weapons threaten the future of the Middle East. Those who underestimate the inherent danger of the Huns bear direct responsibility for the deaths of today’s victims, the Syrians, and tomorrow’s victims, the Israelis, Europeans and Americans.
It’s time to break free of the moral relativism, multicultural hypocrisy and political correctness that prevent us from seeing our evil neighborhood as it really is. A terrible warning siren is being sounded in Damascus. Do we hear it? Does the world hear it?
And, we might ask, does President Obama hear it? Shavit’s (metaphorical) use of “Huns” couldn’t help but remind us of Obama’s speech earlier this summer in Berlin. There the president said that “we are not only citizens of America or Germany—we are also citizens of the world. And our fates and fortunes are linked like never before.” Obama nowhere in that speech mentioned Syria, where 75,000 citizens of the world had by then died in a war about which Obama had talked much but done nothing. Indeed, one might conclude from Obama’s inaction that those who do nothing but talk about how they are citizens of the world tend to lack the courage to come to the aid of their fellow citizens of the world.
But perhaps that is too harsh. Perhaps Obama will, belatedly, hearken to the pleas of Ari Shavit. Perhaps he will break free of “moral relativism, multicultural hypocrisy and political correctness.” Perhaps he will realize not just that he has to act, but that he has to act decisively.
It may be that the president believes he ought to get congressional approval before acting against Assad. There is merit to this view. The solution is to ask Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Harry Reid to call the House and Senate back to Washington as soon as possible. A full debate in Congress would be appropriate and desirable. It would focus the American people on what is at stake, instead of leaving the public a bystander watching media commentary on the administration’s rhetorical zigs and political zags. We suspect at the end of the day Congress would pass legislation authorizing the use of military force against the Assad regime. And if Congress refused, at least we would have had the considered judgment of the duly elected representatives of the American people.
The worst outcome would be for Obama not to call Congress back, or not to act at all, but to falter and retreat. For his retreat would be America’s retreat, and his humiliation America’s humiliation.