As a Jew, why am I not more exercised about the use of poison gas in Syria?

As you’ve gathered, I do not support President Obama’s promised “show” strike against Syria to protest the Assad regime’s alleged use of toxic nerve gas against a community that presumably supported the al Qaeda rebels. To justify my position, I’ve pointed to the fact that there is no benefit to the U.S. in getting involved in Syria.  That still leaves the question, though, of why I, a Jew, wouldn’t want to see every country of good will make its utmost efforts to protest the use of poison gas against civilians.

It’s not that I think a Syrian civilian’s life is less valuable than a Jewish civilian’s life (or an American’s life, for that matter).  Based on the available news, I assume that those who died were just ordinary people, trying to live in a nation torn apart by an internecine tribal, Muslim battle.  If that assumption is correct, those who died are innocent victims, no less than those who lost their lives in Nazi gas camps and mass graves throughout the Pale.  So why don’t I want to help?

Well, there are several reasons.  My first response relates to my family history.  What’s happening in Syria is not genocide, a la Hitler, who wanted to remove an entire race from the earth.  There was no military objective underlying Hitler’s decision to round up 6 million people and killing them. Indeed, it was militarily stupid, because it diverted resources that were desperately needed for a two-front war.

In this regard, I know my views about “ordinary war” versus genocide are informed by my Mother’s experiences.  While she’ll go to the grave hating the Japanese guards who so brutally controlled the concentration camps in Indonesia where she spent almost four years of her life, she’s never been that hostile to the Japanese people.  “They were fighting a war,” she says.  “In this, they differed from the Germans, who were destroying a people.”

What’s happening in Syria is a civil war.  In the hierarchy of wars, civil wars are always the most bloody and least humane, in much the same way that, in the area of law, the most vicious cases are divorces.  Your opponent is close enough for you to hate wholeheartedly.

In Syria, we are witnessing a fight between two closely-related, rabid dogs.  These war dogs can be put down entirely or they can be ignored.  They cannot be trifled with in an inconsequential way, or they will turn the full fury of their wrath on the trifler, even as they escalate actions against each other.  If America goes in, she must go in to destroy one side or the other.  Doing less than that is futile and tremendously dangerous, especially because these are Arabs….

And that gets me to the main reason I’m opposed to intervening despite gas attack that Assad’s troops launched.  Perhaps to your surprise, I’m not going to argue that “Let the Muslims kill each other there, because it’s good riddance to bad rubbish.”  I certainly don’t mind Syria being so busy internally that she has no time to harass Israel.  However, that pragmatic response is most definitely not the same as delighting in the destruction of her innocent civilian population.

Instead, my sense of futility in getting involved in Syria is that what we’re seeing is simply how Muslim Arabs fight.  They don’t do polite warfare, with rules.  They do balls-to-the-wall warfare, with women and children as primary targets.  Their cultural preference when fighting war is rape, mutilation, torture, mass-murder, civilian massacres, and soaking-their-hands-in-their-victims’ blood.

When we oppose gas warfare, it’s because it is so wildly outside the rules by which Western warfare has so long abided:  we fire things at the enemy, whether guns, or cannon, or missiles.  Our culture accepts projectile warfare, but has been for at least a century extremely hostile to non-projectile warfare, whether it’s gas attacks, civilian slaughters, or concentration camps.

Within the context of the Muslim world, when it comes to warfare, anything goes.  If we stop one type of atrocity, they’ll come up with another one, because they have no parameters.

Also, to the extent all Muslim/Arab wars are both tribal and religious, they have no concept of civilians.  Whether you’re a newborn infant, a teenage girl, a mentally handicapped man, or a doddering old lady, if you belong to “the other” tribe or religion (and everyone does) then you are automatically an enemy and a target.  Today’s baby becomes tomorrow’s adolescent rock throwers.  That young teenage girl might give birth to another member of that tribe.  The mentally handicapped man is proof that the other religion or tribe is corrupt.  As for the doddering old lady, she almost certainly raised someone among your enemy.

I’m not saying anything surprising, here.  It’s why the Palestinians so enthusiastically target Jewish schools.

Incidentally, it’s worth noting that we did not go to war against Germany at the end of 1941 because it was harassing and killing German Jews.  We tend to leave countries alone, even when they slaughter their own people.  We went after them because they were trying to take over Europe.  To the extent the Roosevelt administration knew about the genocide, it kept it under wraps.  There was no way Roosevelt was going to take America to war over a bunch of Jews.  It was only after the war that everyone was shocked — shocked! — to learn about the scope of Nazi atrocities.

My daughter rather inadvertently pointed out how ridiculous this “mass slaughter of civilians” yardstick is.  For one of her classes, she is required to read three newspaper stories a day.  I suggested the report about Kim Jong-un’s order that his former lover and her entire band get machine-gunned to death.  I also told her that the regime forced the family’s of those executed to watch their loved ones die, and then shipped all the families, lock, stock, and baby off to the concentration camp system.  “They’ll be lucky if they die there quickly,” I added.  “The camps are that bad.”

When she heard this, my daughter, bless her heart, came back with a question that gets to the heart of Obama’s flirtation with bombing Syria:  “Then why aren’t we planning to attack North Korea, instead of Syria?”

Excellent question, my dear, especially considering North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.  We have shown for decades our willingness to stand aside when tyrannical regimes kill their own people — provided that those murders do not implicate American interests.  Even during the Cold War, our incursions into other countries were to protect non-communists from communists.  Since we couldn’t attack the Soviet Union directly, we engaged in containment by proxy.  In other words, our national interests were at stake, because the Cold War was a direct threat to American interests.

In Syria, however, both sides embrace Islam and hate America.  There are no parties there that need to be protected to further America’s security interests.  We should certainly decry the deaths of the civilians, but the average American on the street seems to understand better than the pettish, petulant Obama that this is one where we should stand aside.  This is their culture and they will defeat it only when they want to, not because of half-hearted, ineffectual, silly efforts on our part.

Obama is sort of beginning to grasp this fact, and he’s trying to save face by approaching Congress.  He assumes that the Senate will support his war cry, because Democrats are slavishly echoing him and there are a few Hawkish Republicans (like McCain) who support him.  He fully expects, however, that the House will vote him down, thereby saying him from the consequences of his own threats and posturing.  It’s quite obvious that he also expects that there will be a pitched battle on the House floor, exposing Republican callousness to a disgusted America.

Obama’s hope that Republicans display each other to their worst advantage in their own form of internecine warfare is misplaced.  Considering that only 9% of the American people believe intervention in Syria is a good thing, if the Republicans display even minimal good sense in opposing a strike, they will get the full support of the American people.

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  • jj

    One caveat: we went to war with Germany at the end of 1941 because they declared war on us, and even at that Roosevelt didn’t begin with unanimous backing.  (Plenty of congressmen knew the difference between Tojo and Hitler, and they were pretty sure it wasn’t the latter who bombed Pearl Harbor.)  I don’t think more than 1 in any 10 Americans gave a s*** who took over Europe, or didn’t.  If more Americans then than now could locate Paris on a map, it’s only because education was better; certainly not because they gave a damn.  As a nation we didn’t.
    As for Syria, I’m far simpler than you are, and fine with Muslims killing each other.  If John McCain and Nancy Pelosi are hot to go, we can borrow the cannon from Ringling Bros., tie them together, and fire them over there.

  • Spartacus

    Also worth noting is Joshuapundit’s very informative post on why this could easily have been a false flag op by Al Qaeda.  Merely proving that the agent involved was sarin does absolutely nothing to establish who it was who released it.
    Al Qaeda: “Decimated” only a year ago, and now on the verge of having the world’s most powerful navy and air force.  Not a bad turnaround, from their point of view.

  • Ymarsakar

    The US has incinerated entire cities and is the only nation to have used nuclear weapons on a civilian/military target in human history.
    All this “concern” over bio and chemical weapons is merely the philosophy of a decadent civilization trying to make up excuses for why it doesn’t obliterate the enemy as much as it used to. Maybe because it no longer believes there are any real enemies, other than Republicans and Sarah Palin Tea Partists?

  • Ymarsakar

    Also, I’m not sure what people here are waiting for Obama to “get”. It’s not like he is intervening because he wants to save civilians. He didn’t care when Iranians, Syrians, and Libyans were getting killed by him or his allies.
    So why does he care now? Because “finally” he is “getting it”? As if.

  • Charles Martel

    It is ironic that two death cults—Islam and the Democratic Party—whose hatred for the West unites them, are at the point where one is going to kill a few hundred or thousand of the other. But, then again, maybe it’s a professional courtesy: When you’re both in love with death, what nicer way to show your ally a good time?

  • Mike Devx

    This is a Syrian civil war where both sides are willing to gas those tribes – women, children, everyone – loyal to the opponent.  I think the concern is that the use of gas is going to escalate practically to the point where the entire nation lies murdered beneath hundreds or thousands of clouds of gas as both sides indiscriminately slaughter the other.
    The crisis isn’t military.  We’ve been seeing slaughter by normal means – non-gas – in several African countries and we haven’t lifted a finger.  (By “we” I mean the rest of the world.)  Some of those wars were even genocidal.  No matter.  As long as they stick to bombs, bullets, knives, and clubs, no one wants to intervene.  The same is true here.  Especially it is true for America: We hate both sides and both sides hate us.  There is no possible way to intervene, and choose a victor, militarily.  We can’t justify the cost in the loss of our soldiers’ lives and the time and cost of fighting such a war.  And make no mistake – we would have to invade, troops on the ground, to pacify the entire country.  That’s not going to happen.
    The entire goal, then, is to get the combatants to stop using chemical weapons against tribal villages.  It is a good goal.  The question is, how are you going to convince them to stop?  That’s where the enemy is -in the villages – and both sides think chemical weapons are perfectly fine.  Neither side WANTS the hated U.S. to intervene for this purpose.
    I still think if there;s any humanitarian purpose to intervening, the U.N. should do it.  They would have to intervene in force, and they, as a group, don’t want to.  So everyone seems to want the U.S. to step in and clean up the mess.  This time, however, the U.S. has absolutely no reason to lead that effort.
    Maybe all the frantic talk – this escalating war of words in the “international community” – will be enough to cause both sides to put away their chemical toys, and go back to killing each other with bombs, bullets, knives and clubs.

  • Michael Adams

    Well, if we really wanted to show dissapprobation of the use of chemical weapons, we could air-drop gas masks, gas cribs*, and atropine injectors.
    We would not save all by these measures, but a few rockets would not do so, either. We’d be making a statement, and a better one than military action that would have the effect of strengthening the Muslin Brotherhood.Yeah, I’m sure that someone would get a leak around the mask because they can’t seal right if there’s a beard or head scarf, but the instructions could warn about that, at least. Why not try it?
    *Massed produced in Israel.

  • raymondjelli

    Why should we be exercised at all about Syria. This administration has pretty much denounced the war on terror. It would put a Morsi-like government into Syria if it could and support that government no matter how unpopular it would be with its people. This is not an intervention in support of the American people but in support of Obama’s worldview.

    He can have his worldview. He can’t have American forces if his worldview is in complete opposition to America’s citizens.

  • Earl

    If the House Republicans would pick someone who can communicate clearly, and have him/her read your piece (this one) several times as the basis of a speech explaining their position, they’d have a chance of prevailing in the arena of public opinion.
    Alas, they’re unlikely to do that….and Obama will pin the “blame” for every awful thing that happens in Syria on the House GOP because they “tied his hands”.
    What a bunch of incompetent boobs!!

  • Charles Martel

    I was thinking about the Shiite Muslim belief that the 12th Imam is holed up at the bottom of a well in the holy city of Qom. Apparently the force fields imprisoning him there will cease functioning when enough Jewish blood is spilled to make it worth his time to put in an appearance.
    I think the Jews should help him out. Couldn’t the Israeli’s lob a cruise missile straight down the well to free him? (Of course there is the possibility that the Israelis will mistakenly put too big a warhead on their missile and it will turn the 12th Imam into paste. But Allah’s smart enough to reconstitute protoplasmic smear into something presentable, no?)

  • Spartacus

    I’ve heard of doing well by doing good, but doing good by doing a well?  That’s a new twist.

  • Wolf Howling

    To paraphrase Machiavelli, if you are going to attack, you need to do so with ferocity, for men will shy away from great pain, but will want to avenge small slights.  What Obama has proposed has all the earmarks of a small slight.
    Unlike many commenting here, I don’t see Syria as outside our sphere of national interest.  Syria is Iran’s only Arab ally and it is their gateway to Lebanon and the West Bank.  If Syria was to come under a regime hostile to Iran, that would deal a serious blow to Iran.  In the long run, that is important as, unless anything is done to change their trajectory, we will at some point be at war with them over their nuclear arsenal.  
    Thus, if what Obama proposes in his talks with Congress is decisive action to actually shape the war in Syria, I would have to support that.  If what he proposes is mere face saving, then no.
    Moreover, even if what Obama proposes is decisive action, everyone on the right in the debate should take pains to point out:
    1.  This action is being taken without the support of the UN.  You will recall how the left howled about taking any action without full approval of that body.2.  This action is being taken without virtually any coalition of the willing.  You will recall how the left howled about the U.S. acting “unilaterally” when Bush had put together an alliance of some forty nations.3.  That President Bush took no military actions without the full consent of Congress.  Obama, on the other hand, took us into Libya without either Congressional authorization or any threat to our national security.  The only reason he has come to Congress now is because he lacks anything approaching a legitimate mandate to attack Syria.4.  That we are where we are today because Obama has not had anything approaching a coherent foreign policy.  He has neither attacked enemies who threaten our national interest nor given support to those who would support our national interest.  He did not intervene during the Green Revolution, yet he saw fit to intervene in Libya.  He did not help the Syrians at the start of their civil war, but he did support the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.  Can this joker – or the left as a whole – get anything right?
    That is a rhetorical question, but let me answer it anyway – I don’t think so.  The left seem to see pursuing our national interest as something that is immoral.  On the other hand, they see intervening in places where our national interest is not at stake as somehow moral.  It is the bizarre brand of self hate that grew from the pen of Karl Marx and has spread like a cancer throughout the West ever since.  God help this nation. 

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  • Ymarsakar

    Islam and the Middle East secondly, is a factor in American security because they are allies of the Leftist alliance, which operates in the US to a great extent (but not sole extent).
    Whether people think they can defeat Islam or the Left, doesn’t matter. Because defeating one without defeating the other, is impossible. They regenerate themselves, and each other. 

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