As a past critic of US President Barack Obama’s passivity in the face of Syrian
slaughter, I was immensely impressed with his forcefulness in holding Syrian
President Bashar Assad accountable for the use of sarin gas.
contrary, it was Republican opposition to Obama’s plans to punish Syria for
gassing children that was so sorely disappointing, to say the least. Is there
any greater justification for attacking a country’s military than when it
engages in mass murder of children? And yes, I know the objections. It might not
be productive in stopping Assad’s regime, the strategic objectives need to be
more clearly defined. Presidents can’t be cowboys and attack without
Congressional approval and United Nations support.
Afghanistan is still a
mess, do we really need further Middle Eastern entanglements? And, of course,
America is near broke.
But towering above all these considerations were
the bodies of hundreds of dead children. How do you signal to Syria and all
those who would follow its example, especially Iran, that using nerve agents
against innocent people will never be tolerated.
I was therefore shocked
to hear Obama reverse course and say that time was not pressing to punish Syria,
that he would seek Congressional approval and wider support for his
Let’s be clear: If the gassing of children is not an urgent
matter than nothing is. Timing is everything. When the Jewish lobby in World War
II asked US president Franklin D.
Roosevelt to bomb the tracks to
Auschwitz, people were being gassed at a rate of 15,000 per day. Waiting one
week would cost the lives of another 100,000 people.
In Syria, the
numbers are smaller though still horrific. Already 100,000 dead. But would we
tolerate even another 400 kids being gassed? And if you are going to insist on
Congressional approval – which neither Reagan, when he attacked Libya, nor
Clinton when he attacked Afghanistan and Sudan, sought – then at least call
Congress back from recess.
In the Jewish community we often speak of how,
during the Holocaust, not many people gave a damn as six million Jews were
rapidly exterminated. So how can we as a community afford not to speak out when
Arab children are gassed? Where is the outrage? I’m not for putting boots on the
ground in Syria. I’m just as weary as other Americans because of Iraq and
Afghanistan – and especially the ingratitude shown by so many Muslim countries
that we liberated – to see American men and women die to create Islamist
countries that are not fully committed to liberal democracy. I also know that
America right now can’t afford much.
Our national debt is a crisis of its
But we sure as heck can afford a few dozen cruise missiles and we
sure as heck can bring the war straight to Assad’s doorstep by destroying his
presidential palaces so he’s forced to live like the animal he is in
subterranean shelters. Furthermore, The Wall Street Journal suggested in an
editorial last week that we can use our missiles not just for Obama’s declared
“shot across the bow,” which suggests that we won’t hit any substantive targets,
but instead strike the six airfields being most used by Syria’s Air Force and
effectively ground their war planes from doing further harm.
One thing we
cannot do is play politics where people’s lives are concerned. This is not a
time to be doing the all-American blood sport of Republican versus
I don’t give a damn why Obama wants to strike Syria – whether
it’s to salvage his credibility on his self-declared “red lines,” to show Iran
that he’s serious, or to protect his legacy as someone who did not sit back
while children were murdered – his intention is immaterial. All that matters is
the Biblical imperative: “Thou shalt not stand idly by the blood of your
We must stop the butcher in Damascus from killing more
innocent Arabs. On this, Obama is absolutely right and I’m mystified why any
Republican would oppose him.
One of the principal reasons I ran for
Congress as a Republican was disappointment in my liberal friends (and coming
from the worlds of academic and media most of my friends are staunchly
anti-Republican) in not being fully committed to fighting
Palestinians, they told me, should of course not be blowing up
Israeli buses. But you need to see it from their perspective.
humiliated with check points and road blocks. To which I always respond, there
is no justification whatsoever for targeting children, excuses be
Is it any different when the children who are being targeted are
Arab, or Kurdish, or Syrian? They are equally God’s children.
Republicans have been great at making that point strongly, especially in the
case of Saddam Hussein. Yes, we’re all Iraq-weary.
But I supported the
overthrow of Saddam and thought it a great moment in American history because he
had murdered tens of thousands of children with mustard gas at Halabjah in April
1988. So where are the Republican voices of outrage now, when Assad is doing the
same thing? In America we play politics with roads, and subsidies, and
unemployment – all important issues. But when it comes to “Never Again,” we have
to speak with one voice. “Never again” means just that. Never, ever, ever again.
That the world will never again tolerate the mass slaughter of civilians by
monsters like Assad. That civilization will never sit passively while brute
thugs assail and slaughter the innocents en masse.
If you use poison gas
you are going to be hit by a Mack truck.
For goodness sake, let’s all get
on the same page about this. Obama has, of late, been exemplary in taking the
lead on punishing Syria for atrocities. US Secretary of State John Kerry even
more so. Please, don’t falter now. Get your backbone back. “Do not murder” means
just that. The Ten Commandments are not Democratic or Republican or American or
Islamic. They are universal, accepted by all nations at all times.
the 21st century, people. It’s time we finally get serious about stopping mass
murder or our passivity will make us complicit.The author has been
coined “America’s Rabbi” and is founder of
This World: The Jewish Values
Network, which promotes universal Jewish values in the culture. He has just
The Fed-Up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and
Suffering. Follow him on Twitter @Rabbi Shmuley.
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