Not long after the 1982 slaughter of upwards of 25,000 Syrians at Hama on orders
of then-president Hafez Assad, I asked a top US State Department official why we
heard so little outrage from the US or other governments.
He shrugged and
told me, “No one cares when Arabs kill Arabs.”
Today Hafez’s son Bashar
is making daddy look like a piker, with more than 100,000 of his fellow Syrians
killed over the past two-and-ahalf years, most recently 1,400 by poison gas,
including over 400 children, in a Damascus suburb last month. Another two
million have become refugees.
After several smaller Syrian chemical
attacks, an angry American president finally decided to punish Bashar Assad for
this crime against humanity by lobbing a few cruise missiles at some Syrian
targets, careful to avoid the chemical weapons depots.
But after initial
resistance, he decided to seek permission from a Congress he is known to scorn,
and where the feeling is mutual among many. That’s when the real trouble began.
He faces a humiliating defeat from anti-war Democrats on the left, skeptics in
the center and rabidly anti-Obama Republicans, isolationists and xenophobes on
So he turned to two nemeses for help: Israeli Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Neither has been very
good at concealing his disdain for Obama – nor he for them – and each now has an
opportunity to put the American president in his debt.
George W. Bush is
Obama’s albatross. He took the nation to war based on lies and false
intelligence, and today, across the board, the Congress and the public are
demanding a higher level of proof before authorizing any military
What’s more, they see no clear American security interest at
Obama turned first to Israel and the Jewish community for help in
selling his case.
He didn’t just call Netanyahu for help but also
enlisted the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and other Jewish groups to
lobby the Congress. Rather than keep a low profile, AIPAC announced how it was
sending 250 citizen lobbyists to the Hill to build support for an Obama policy
that it saw as sending a message to Iran not to build a nuclear
Does anyone in his right mind believe that a couple days of
Tomahawk attacks will convince the ayatollahs to shut down their centrifuges and
give up their nuclear ambitions? Netanyahu reportedly was even making personal
phone calls to friends in Congress, at Obama’s request.
I can’t think of
a better way to tell the world that the Jews and Israel are pushing the United
States to go to war in Syria. When Mearsheimer and Walt and their band of Israel
haters accused Israel and the Jews of pushing us to war against Iraq after 9/11
they were totally wrong, but who can say that this time? If American Jewish
leaders think it is vital that the president follow through on his threat to
strike Syria so he will have credibility when he threatens to block Iran from
getting the bomb, there are better ways to deliver the message than by press
releases. Groups like AIPAC have excellent access to lawmakers, both through
their lay leaders and their professional lobbyists, and can effectively make
their case privately.
Whatever the outcome of this crisis, I fear it will
long be remembered as the time when Israel and its friends lobbied the US
Congress to go to war with a president who lacks a clear plan to make that war
work, and that will overshadow all else. Even if the president gets the votes he
wants, which looks increasingly doubtful, they may win his gratitude, but at an
extremely high price. And if they fail him, they look weak.
something of an afterthought. Secretary of State John Kerry last week suggested
to his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, that it might be possible to avoid
military action if Assad would agree to give up his chemical weapons stockpile,
with an eye toward its eventual destruction. Lavrov quickly took the idea to
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem and both tentatively endorsed it, but as
of this writing there has been no official acceptance from Assad himself, nor
The White House, smelling a possibly humiliating defeat in
Congress, latched on even while expressing skepticism, aptly noting Syria’s
inclination to stall and its failure to “follow through on
Trusting Putin is also problematic. He may simply be
stalling to buy time for his client, while continuing to provide political cover
at the United Nations and arms at home. A political deal like this could give
credibility to Obama’s threats (Iran, are you listening? Russia took him
seriously enough to intervene.), cast Putin as a peacemaker and do more to stop
the threat of chemical weapons than salvos of cruise missiles. Or if Putin is
just delaying the game, it could derail the Obama presidency.
less success when he turned to Arab leaders for help. The Saudis are the only
ones who said they’d support an American military strike, the Qataris were a bit
vague and the rest said “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”
Those who should
have been the most outraged by Assad’s atrocities against their fellow Arabs are
the least inclined to help. Sure, they bemoan the tragedy, but action is out of
the question, especially by the infidel Americans.
After all the billions
of dollars worth of planes, tanks, missiles and bombs they’ve been amassing over
the years, most of it from us, they’re the ones who should move in to stop the
Maybe too many of those leaders identify with the tyrant Assad,
who brought this war on by responding to peaceful demonstrations calling for
political and economic reform with violence.
The Arab League professed
outrage over the use of poison gas but wimped out of doing anything beyond
calling for the international community to take “necessary measures” to avoid
Most Arab leaders condemn Syria’s use of poison gas and feel
the brutal and blood-stained Assad regime must go, but they don’t want a
non-Arab to do the job and they lack the will and courage to do it
And if they don’t care enough to help their brethren why
should they expect the rest of the world to care more and do the job for them?