Calhoun's Cannons for Sept 3, 2013
. . . the best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity. . . .
The Second Coming.
It's sure a great time to be a cynic. Halcyon days, really.
Syria's Assad slaughters an estimated 1,400 civilians, including hundreds of children, with chemical weapons, in clear violation of international laws in place since the Great War. President Obama goes on TV to declare that the world has "watched in horror."
No, it didn't. A good deal of disgust, perhaps, but not horror. Horror requires outrage. Horror requires action, intervention, the stopping of the horror, the holding to account the perpetrators. But the world is having none of that, thank you. With the collapse of the "Arab Spring," I suspect that the world has come to the conclusion that the middle east is now in the throws of a Muslim version of the Thirty Years War: a savage mixture of God-driven blood soaked religious struggle combined with hard-eyed, heavily armed state politics. In that world, brazen killers fare very well indeed.
And it's a world made for a cynic's delight. Consider Assad. Yes, he's a weird, sub-set sort of Muslim, but a Muslim nonetheless. And killing innocents, especially women and children, is considered an appalling violation of one of the deepest held tenants of Islam. Anathema. A terrifying breach of God's holy word. Yet when a Christian president (Obama) called upon the civilized nations to intervene, to form a coalition of the willing to bring the world's wrath down upon Assad's murderous head, The (Muslim) Arab League suddenly discovered a forgotten urgent appointment and sidled out the door. And the mullah's, who lost no time issuing a fatwa on an author who wrote fiction, had other things to do when it came to real murdered children. Sorry, we must away, As-salam Alaikum.
Russia, too. Of course, they're "godless," so I'm sure religious wars are just another useful dialectic to them. Plus they've had a long, long history of "horror." Plenty of experience in accepting "moral obscenities." Not to mention their skill in dealing with brutal realpolitik. Which translates into Russia never allowing mass murder to interfere with the art of the deal..
The U.N., too, has perfected the art of appearing to be fully present while not actually being there. It's the cynic's highest art form performed on the world's stage. Viewing with alarm, pointing with dismay, hand-wringing sorrow expressed, then suddenly, the remembered appointment, the hurried rush out the door.
And for sheer pleasure, a cynic cannot ask for anything better that the rhetoric that is now flowing. "Moral outrage" is always tricky coming from a country with a faulty memory and a sad history of using chemical warfare itself. I mean, what is Agent Orange, if not a chemical weapon that was used by the U.S. against innocents, including women and children. Not to mention our own veterans who, 30 years later, are now reaping the cancers and other maladies Agent Orange bequeathed to them by their own government.
Well, what can you do? Moral outrage has to be a shared feeling if it's to have any effect. No good leading a battle charge of one. That turns into mere hectoring. So we now have the cynic's snarky delight of watching the president suddenly switching gears and forcing a dysfunctional Congress to step up and let the world see just what "moral outrage" is worth in today's market. Nothing? A few lobbed missiles? A gridlocked non-coalition of the unwilling? World-bestriding Pax Americana suddenly hiding next to timid, isolationist little Britain while France (France!) declares for intervention? Awwww, Gawwwwd.
Well, who can blame Congress for their annoyed fury. Obama has now trapped himself and them all in their own glib rhetoric and too-facile political and moral posturing. Lines in the sand and now -- Sweet Jesus! -- they'll all have to go on record and vote. A vote that will surely show up on their record during the next election. And no good pretending they just remembered they had to leave for their kid's soccer game before the vote can be taken. There will be no quarter given in this mess.
So here we are, trapped in the sticky web of a part of the world that's in the throws of No Good Options, and few choices except to cynically wash one's hands and declare that Syria, indeed, the whole middle east, has now passed the tipping point and has become a place of senseless fury, a new blood-soaked Thirty Years religious war that should be left alone to play out its blood-letting destiny.
And if that's the case, then surely we have come to the heart of darkness, a place where the only furious reaction left may be a cynical, savage Kurtzian snarl, "Exterminate all the brutes." Followed by a shrug. And a remembered appointment. And a quick slip out the door.
The horror! The horror!