President Obama is on a 10-day mission to drum up support, both international and domestic, for a strike against Syria.
Let's be clear: This is not merely a question of whether or not the United States should punish Syria for violating human rights by using chemical weapons against civilians.
Rather this is a question of whether the United States should bomb Syria given that President Obama has gone on record as saying that the use of chemical weapons would trigger a U.S. military response.
Those who voice objection to the strike insist that the United States “should not be the world’s policeman.”
The world needs America's assurance that its commitments are made to be upheld.
Many Americans would prefer that the United Nations step in. But that body has been rendered impotent by a bloc of Arab, Muslim and dictatorial Third World forces who give automatic license to autocrats.
NATO, the European Union, British Parliament, and the Arab League have proven equally feckless.
It seems the entire world is running away from responsibility.
In such situations, Jewish wisdom states a clear imperative:
“In a place where no one is taking responsibility, strive to take responsibility” (Mishnah – Avos 2:6).
When the world is descending into chaos, we do not have the option of standing idly by. We have to be the adult in the room who stands up and says that evil behavior will not be tolerated.
As the president himself stated:
"Make no mistake – this has implications beyond chemical warfare. If we won't enforce accountability in the face of this heinous act, what does it say about our resolve to stand up to others who flout fundamental international rules?”
This is much deeper than just the Middle East. This is a defining moment for America to reaffirm itself as a civilizing force in the world.
Even more so, the world needs America's assurance that its commitments are made to be upheld.
Ironically, due to a Congressional recess for the High Holidays, this 10-day debate falls out precisely during the Ten Days of Teshuva – the days of clarifying our priorities and committing ourselves to taking responsibility.
At the afternoon service of Yom Kippur we read the biblical Book of Jonah – the classic tale of flight from responsibility.
God sends Jonah to confront a moral evil in the city of Nineveh. Yet Jonah finds it uncomfortable to deal with, so he flees in the opposite direction via boat, and ends up in the belly of a huge fish.
Jonah’s mistake was focusing on the uncomfortable aspect of the mission.
This was God’s way of getting Jonah to introspect, to realize his mistake of focusing on the uncomfortable aspect of the mission.
So Jonah took stock and concluded that no matter how difficult it may be, taking action was the only way to achieve the maximum good. At the end of the day, you can never run away from doing the right thing.
Eventually, by agreeing to take responsibility, Jonah was able to save the population of an entire large city (Jonah 3:10).
Why do people run from responsibility?
Rabbi Noah Weinberg ob’m defines this as the fundamental challenge between comfort and pleasure. We all want to be great; we all want to change the world. But we don't always feel like putting forth the effort. So we choose the path of comfort, of running away from the consequences in our lives.
We rationalize all sorts of destructive behavior. Whether it’s a compromise of business ethics or a broken diet, we often set a personal red line… then move it. In the process, we fail to achieve some of the most important things in life.
Choosing comfort leads to the decline of civilization.
The danger is even greater when society makes "comfort" its primary goal. As one scholar observed, the definition of civilization is when you choose what's right over what's comfortable.
Choosing comfort creates an atmosphere of non-accountability, and ultimately, anarchy. This is the decline of all civilizations; historians peg the collapse of the Roman Empire due to comfort and decadence.
Doing the right thing – no matter how difficult it may be – is always the best choice. In the short-term, if we pay in the pain of trying, we are spared the wrenching emotional pain of knowing we were too weak to even try.
Doing the right thing is the best long-term solution, too. The degree of effort now is nothing compared to the pain when reality confronts us (as it invariably will do), when it may be too late to do anything about it.
The Red Line
One question that has many observers perplexed: Why would Assad cross the red line of chemical weapons and provoke such negative global reaction?
Perhaps it is the Iranians – as Syria’s primary sponsor (Mehdi Taaib, head of the Ayatollah's think tank, refers to Syria as a "district of Iran") – who ordered the Syrians to cross this red line, in order to "test" international resolve against dictators using WMD.
In other words, everything unfolding in this Syrian scenario is a trial run for the big showdown with Iran in its quest for nuclear weapons.
Be assured that the Ayatollah is watching very carefully to see how America reacts.
If there is no global response to this breaching of a universal taboo on using poison gas, it will embolden Iran with a green light.
And if you think poison gas is bad, try to imagine nuclear weapons in the hands of the Mad Mullahs.
This week marks the 40th anniversary of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when Syrian dictator Hafez al-Assad launched a war of annihilation against Israel. The Jewish state prevailed, but for a time things were in real jeopardy; many northern Israeli towns were evacuated and then overrun by the Syrian army.
During these High Holidays, as we face this new Syrian challenge, it is time to take stock of what's at stake.
As Winston Churchill once said: "This is no time for ease and comfort. It is time to dare and endure."
Time to wake up and stop the rationalizations.
Time to take responsibility for ourselves and for the world.