The Days of Awe are about to begin, and the Jews of America are turning their attention to matters of the spirit: prayer and introspection, repentance and personal renewal. Nonetheless, as is so often the case, the affairs of the world have again intruded on our consciousness, requiring our attention and concern.
The debate on Syria rages on. Some Americans call for intervention in the civil war so as to guarantee the removal of the Assad regime. Some—most, in fact—demand that America refrain from any involvement because it is not America’s business; others reach the same conclusion because they think that the difference America can make will be minimal and the cost too high. Some urge the American government to press the Russians to help engage the warring parties in arranging a diplomatic solution to the conflict.
This is a healthy and important debate, and one that American Jews, by and large, have generally remained silent on. Some hawkish voices have been heard, to be sure, but the organized community has said little. There are a variety of reasons for this, including the fact that most American Jews are ambivalent about an exceedingly difficult and complicated issue.
But the time for silence is over.
A resolution is about to come before Congress that will endorse an American attack on Syria. It will be a limited resolution, making clear that the United States is not intending to speed regime change but is proclaiming that if Syrians resort to chemical weapons, they can expect to pay a price.
Could more be done? Of course. Does America need a compelling and comprehensive strategy on all matters related to the Syrian civil war? It does. Will conversations continue here in the political realm? They will.
But there is a decision that has to be made right now, and Jewish Americans, supporters of Israel and more involved in Middle East matters than any other American group, cannot and should not avoid making their views known.
And the only possible decision that they can make is to support the President.
The Jewish people have special sensitivity to the issue of atrocities in wartime, and the use of chemical weapons to kill nearly 1500 people is an atrocity by any definition.
And what is true anywhere is true in even greater measure in the Middle East, a region of the world torn by conflict where nothing approaching a stable peace is likely in the foreseeable future. Ignoring an atrocity anywhere is abhorrent; ignoring an atrocity in the Middle East is an invitation to chaos and mass murder.
Jeffrey Goldberg, a reasonable fellow, argues that a missile strike in Syria on Obama’s terms could make things worse, but Senator Rand Paul, for whom no atrocity not involving Americans would be horrific enough to justify the use of American power, argues the same thing. If Obama loses, the isolationists win, the Tea Party wins, and the day when America asserts herself anywhere for any reason recedes that much farther into the night.
And yes, American credibility is at stake, and American credibility does matter.
Support for the President’s position must come from all Americans who care about America’s role in the world. And this means American Jews too.