As Jews, we understand only too well – or we should – the meaning of these words: “No one came for us.”
No one came for us 75 years ago. The world sat idly by Jewish blood as the Nazi death machine methodically murdered our martyred Six Million, as well as at least five million others.
Last week, more than 1,400 people – too many of whom were children – were gassed to death in Syria. More than 2,000 others were seriously, and perhaps permanently, injured by the Sarin gas the Nazis developed in 1938. The perpetrators, almost certainly under the command of the Syrian government, not only showed a callous disregard for their own people, but they demonstrated their contempt for world opinion.
That contempt is well-founded. The world says all the right things, but shows no inclination to back its words with decisive punishing military action.
First, the British Parliament rejected a military response, its MPs arguing that to attack Syria would violate international law, disregarding the fact that the use of chemical weapons is itself a violation of international law.
Even worse, Parliament sent a message of encouragement to anyone who would use such weapons in the future: As long as you do not use it on us, we do not care what weapons you use on others.
It is not that Parliament did not want to see Syria punished. It just did not want to be the one doing the punishing. The MPs were certain that the United States would act regardless of whether Britain joined in.
After all, for over two years now, President Barack Obama has said that the United States would respond forcefully to any use of chemical weapons on Syria’s part.
Enter the cynical machinations of the president’s opponents on Capitol Hill. They, too, knew for certain that Obama would act, providing them with yet another excuse for a round of Obama-bashing.
Thus, Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5th CD) led a chorus of congressional colleagues – nearly 100 Republicans and 18 Democrats – in demanding that the president ask them for permission first. Said Garrett: “Engaging our military in Syria without prior congressional authorization – when no direct threat to the United States exists – would violate the separation of powers clearly outlined by the Constitution.”
It is a specious argument at best, but Garrett and his colleagues knew they were risking nothing. Obama would act without their consent. They could attack him without ever having either saying yes to his request (which so many are loathe to do under any circumstance), or saying no, thereby giving future wielders of chemical weapons a green light because “no direct threat to the United States exists.”
Rather than acting, the president gave in to a cynical calculus of his own. He decided to force his opponents to make just that unwanted choice.
In the Arab world, words mean very little. Actions mean everything. Israel’s withdrawal from Egypt following its decisive victory in the Yom Kippur War, for example, allowed President Gamal Abdel Nasser to proclaim Egypt’s victory over Israel. This week, Syria’s official newspaper cheered what it called a “historic American retreat.”
The president believes that Congress cannot say no to military action. Prime Minister David Cameron had that same belief before Parliament voted.
Already, there are noises on Capitol Hill to suggest that Congress may indeed say no. Aside from the Obamaphobes, there are the fence-sitters (including Rep. William J. Pascrell Jr., D-9th CD, who talks about war-weariness on Capitol Hill, a sentiment shared by would-be Sen. Corey Booker). There also are the isolationists, including Tea Party favorites. Would-be Sen. Steve Lonegan hopes to join their ranks in October.
Seventy-five years ago, preventing the gassing of people did not pose “a direct threat to the United States.” We, the people for whom no one came, know better. Eleven million dead later, so should members and would-be members of Congress know better. And so should the president of the United States.