The road to bombing Damascus
If I speak, I am condemned.So sings Jean Valjean in Les Misérables, as he contemplates the consequences of action and inaction. Foreign policy fallout similarly fluctuates between condemnation and damnation, that is to say you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. Intervening in Syria may agitate a complex web of interconnectedness with unknown and unknowable consequences. Not intervening in Syria may do precisely the same.
If I stay silent, I am damned!
The problem we have is that President Obama warned President Assad that there would be 'serious consequences' if he crossed a red line in his civil war; that red line being the use of chemical weapons. It appears that such weapons have been deployed, so, having threatened a serious consequence, the US would look rather foolish, not to say impotent, if it chose now not to act. Indeed, it sends a message to tyrants and dictators all over the world that Obama's bark is worse than his bite. Indeed, he doesn't bite at all; his gums just suck.
And yet it has not been established beyond doubt that Assad was responsible. We know the 'rebels' possess and have already deployed sarin nerve gas to devastating effect. It is not clear at all that Assad's regime has done so. And before we blow him to kingdom come we really ought to make sure that the intelligence report hasn't been cribbed from Saif Gaddafi's PhD thesis at the LSE.
If those who oppose Assad are prepared to used chemical weapons against innocent civilians - women and children - they are at least as morally repugnant as Assad's regime, if it be found culpable. William Hague keeps talking about 'moral outrage' as the basis for 'proportionate' military retaliation. The fact that 100,000 Syrians have already died is presumably less of a moral outrage than the hundreds who died a few days ago as a consequence of nerve gas. Morality and outrage are slippery things. In an age of emoting relativism, they are not the most reliable justification for declaring war.
So, in the words of Jean Valjean, if we speak to Assad with cruise missiles, we risk condemning hundreds of innocents to death (for missiles are just as indiscriminate as nerve gas, and the Christians are bound to be systematically 'cleansed' in retribution). We also risk the possibility of Assad turning his formidable Russian-stoked firepower on Israel, in the hope of widening the conflict and uniting the Ummah against the pariah Jewish State.
Yet, if we stay silent, hundreds and possibly thousands more Syrian women and children are damned.
'By faith Abel, though dead, still speaks,' wrote the author to the Hebrews (11:4), alluding to Genesis where we are told that Abel's blood 'cries out from the ground' (4:10). The reason he still speaks is that God did not heed the cry: He did not exact from Cain the full satisfaction that nature demanded - He sent him to live in exile. alienated from his culture and shielded from judgment. Every judgment passed in Cain's new civilisation leaves Abel crying out: its justice will never be true justice, but a form of satisfaction intertwined with bouts of of guilt and regret.
Offended society cries out for satisfaction, and is damned with guilt when it acts. The mark of Cain is symbolic of our perpetual disquiet about a so-called civilisation which depends upon uncivilised violence as a means of satisfying the cry for justice. We cannot let Abel remain unvindicated.
Syria is a killing field. But it is not our civilisation: it belongs to the children of Ishmael and the followers of Mohammed. It is not clear why other Muslim nations are prepared to 'stand by' and 'do nothing' while their brothers and sisters are being slaughtered by their brothers and sisters. Why is the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation not leading a response to this? Where are the declarations of condemnation? Why are they waiting for a display of 'Western' power and might?
For the 'West' to command moral assent, it must embody a formal commitment to righting wrongs. Barack Obama and David Cameron appear persuaded of the fact that Assad has committed a grievous crime, and so must be punished. They have the intelligence report: we do not. And so the economic powers will bomb the ancient City of Damascus - irrespective of whatever contrary voices are raised in Parliament - in order to defend honour, justice and freedom. Innocents will die horrific deaths, but 'collateral damage' is to be expected; it is justifiable.
Abel cries out from the ground, and must be avenged.
Not in His Grace's name.