Harry S Truman had a famous sign on his desk: ‘The buck stops here.’ When the use of a genocidal tool looms, the president must act. Millions of lives are at stake. It is not time to pass the buck to Congress.
The issue is not a limited military strike against Syria. The issue is genocide.
We will admit this much: It is a delicious irony that Congress — every single member thereof — will now be coerced to take a stand, up or down, on an American military response to Syria. Taking potshots at the president from the sidelines will no longer be an option.
For example, condemning Obama for inaction on Syria will impossible, unless the Congressperson puts himself or herself on record as opposing a military response. Democrats will have to take a stand on whether it is human rights everywhere, and not just in the US, that matter to them; and Republicans will have to take a stand on whether isolationism is a viable policy in the face of the verified use of a weapon of mass destruction.
Delicious ironies, yes — but also politics. What the Syrian use of sarin gas needs least is politics, and what it needs most is a blunt, rapid, military response.
Although in many areas we see President Obama as overreaching, foreign policy is not one of them. The constitution gives the president the authority to conduct foreign policy. A military strike — as opposed to a declaration of all out war — falls well within that presidential purview.
Not only that, but the idea that a congressional debate is positive, since a congressional approval of relatively minor military action would unite the country, is fallacious. The Iraq war was approved by Congress in 2003. Unity on that war disappeared long ago.
Thus, President Obama’s decision to go to Congress strikes us as designed to provide political cover of evanescent worth, while clearly giving the Assad regime time to prepare for a strike. And that’s hardly the whole of it. When a radical, verified, highly dangerous violation of human rights occurs, one that (in the president’s words) endangers the national security of the US, delay in response sends a message: Don’t worry. You will not suffer much. You will be free to use chemical weapons again.
The free world has traveled this road before, with disastrous consequences. In the face of the Armenian genocide, the Wilson admini- stration debated for years whether to intervene. Meanwhile, some 1.5 million people were slaughtered. In the face of the Holocaust, the Roosevelt administration used every imaginable excuse to delay the rescue of Jews. When finally forced by voices of outraged conscience within the Roosevelt administration, it found relatively few Jews left to rescue, some 200,000. It was too late for millions of others.
Chillingly updated versions of genocide in Rwanda left no time for debate — only immediate response could help. In 1994, the Clinton administration did absolutely nothing while 800,000 people were slaughtered in Rwanda in two months. So, while it sounds reasonable, balanced and unifying to schedule a debate in Congress, it is an irresponsible, political maneuver, because Syria’s genocidal tool can be easily ramped up to kill millions of people in far less than two months.
We speak as a member of a people whose coreligionists have been targeted for genocide by Syria. Not for a second does that stop us from objecting to a political maneuver that could enhance the possibility of genocide waged against the Syrian people.
Make no mistake, this is the issue: genocide. Bullets also kill people. In fact, bullets and other conventional weaponry have killed a lot more than the some 1,400 people killed or injured by the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons. However, that was only a trial run. Dictators like Assad have no conscience. Whatever works to keep them in power will be used by them. Rational considerations, such as the galvanization of a military response by the US or other forces outside Syria, or the possibility that these weapons could be captured by rebel forces and turned on them, do not register. Any study of the lives of infamous dictators — and more pertinently, of the populations they brainwash into carrying out the genocidal attacks — reveals cold-blooded killers. Wild animals in human skin. Check: Auschwitz gas chambers. Check: Enforced famine in the Ukraine. Check: Slaughter at Srebrenica.
It would be laughable if the stakes were not so high that Congress cannot even bring itself back into session at once. It sits idly by for a whole week! Bad enough that the President has turned to Congress — but now? Congress stays away one week, with the burns and convusions, the horrific deaths, shouting out to . . . empty halls? For shame.
Copyright © 2013 by the Intermountain Jewish News