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Obama missile strikes on Syria trumped by rejection of his interventionist logic

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This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

President Obama is equivocating on Syria – again.  His first equivocation was demanding Congress authorize the use of force.  Now that possibility is in danger of collapse.  Even a close affirmative vote in Congress throws responsibility back on the President.

With the international community reluctant if not opposed to America’s missile strikes, President Obama has found some more wiggle room by floating Russia’s last minute plan for Syria to give over its chemical weapon stock to international inspectors.   How such a plan can be executed and verified in a short time is difficult to imagine.   How much chemical weapons will be found is another issue.  Can the President risk the possibility that there are less chemical weapons to be found than merits this amount of American and international attention?

The President’s gamble to find support for missile strikes has been trumped by the nation’s and world’s unwillingness to follow his interventionist logic.  Outside the perpetual war hawks, no one except the French are interested. Even our newly militant ally wants a way out.

Tonight is the night.  The media will be overloaded with pundits and the President’s speech writers will be working until the last moment.  When the President addresses the nation he has to have all his ducks in a row.  Whatever the President says, though, we know it will only be half the truth, if that.

Meanwhile, as the Syria debate unfolded last week, I was touring Atlanta and speaking in church settings before people who can hardly find Syria on the map.  To those who can find Syria, their interest was primarily centered on Israel/Palestine. Some of those I spoke to have traveled there and are committed justice seekers.  Like all of us, they wring their hands as the plight of Palestinians becomes worse and Syria dominates the airwaves and the President’s attention. The peace negotiations – whatever they were – are in suspended animation.

Flipping through USA Today before a clergy breakfast I was to address, I noticed Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral was being dismantled.  It struck me as a relevant symbolic statement on the world situation.

A central part of the story is that personalized memorial stones bought for thousands of dollars and to be maintained for eternity are being ripped out by the Crystal Cathedral’s new owners, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange County.  How ironic how eternity is compromised as one bankrupt church passes its sacred territory to another.  What with the pedophile suits bankrupting one Catholic diocese after another, I’m amazed that a Catholic diocese has the money to buy anything except top flight defense lawyers.

Resting certain in the sinfulness of the church, I then noticed John Kerry, our erstwhile Secretary of State, lobbying the European Union to back off from its decision to halt aid to Israeli institutions based or connected to Jewish settlements in the West Bank.  With incredibly twisted logic, Kerry wants to reward Israel simply for agreeing to enter negotiations.  Israel doesn’t have to give up anything.  Israel doesn’t have to negotiate anything.  Israel is rewarded for showing up.

Amazing how the honest broker operates, arguing Israel’s case as the way to benefit Palestinians.  Is the honest broker as corrupt as the churches we rightly ridicule?

I don’t know what the world will do without the Hour of Power.  Even if it continues on television without the backdrop of the Crystal Cathedral it will never be the same.  Tuning in, one could always find American and Christian optimism in perfect harmony.

“If you dream it, you can do it!” Reverend Schuller often exclaimed.  That’s the confidence President Obama needs to project this evening.  The problem is that Sculler’s extended congregation were true believers while an increasingly skeptical American public isn’t cutting the President any WMD slack.

Marc H. Ellis
About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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2 Responses

  1. Justpassingby
    September 10, 2013, 12:14 pm

    Russian deal will pose obama as the winner. obama always get away…

  2. DICKERSON3870
    September 10, 2013, 7:32 pm

    RE: “With incredibly twisted logic, Kerry wants to reward Israel simply for agreeing to enter negotiations. Israel doesn’t have to give up anything. Israel doesn’t have to negotiate anything. Israel is rewarded for showing up.” ~ Marc Ellis

    MY FIRST COMMENT: Perhaps this is just another example of “loving Israel to death”! ! !
    FROM PHILIP WEISS, 6/04/13: “As Obama did, Kerry fawned over Israel. They believe that the only way Israelis will do something is if you love them to death.

    MY SECOND COMMENT: Obama and Kerry should talk to some good psychiatrists about the wrongheadedness of being Israel’s enabler out of the (mistaken*) belief that “the only way Israelis will do something is if you love them to death”**. They need to understand that it is possible for an enabler to literally love the enabled to its (literal) death.***

    * FROM JOEL KOVEL, 1-20-13:

    [EXCERPT] . . . As with everyone I know of in official political culture, [Thomas] Friedman [probably like Kerry and Obama – J.L.D.] assumes that Israel is a rational actor on the international stage who will obey the calculus of reward and punishment that regulates the conduct of normal states.
    The presumption is that if you tell it the truth, and even pull back US support, it will get the message, reflect, and change its ways. But Israel is not a normal state, except superficially. It will make adjustments, pulling back here, co-operating there, making nice when necessary, crafting its message using a powerful propaganda apparatus employing the most up-to-date social science. But this is simply tactical and no more predicts or explains the behavior of the Zionist state than an individual sociopath can be explained by the fact that he obeys traffic signals while driving to the scene of his crime. . .

    SOURCE –

    ** ALSO SEE: “It’s Time for Some Israel Real Talk”, By Jaclyn Friedman,, 2/20/13

    [EXCERPT] . . . I love Israel. As an American Jew, the dream of Israel has held me in thrall since I was a small child. The day I wept at the Wailing Wall was one of the most transcendent and emotional of my life. But loving someone doesn’t mean helping them do whatever destructive thing they want. Call that enabling or co-dependence, but it’s not love. I love Israel like I’d love a drunk friend who wants their car keys. . .

    SOURCE –

    *** AND SEE: “How Israel Is Like an Alcoholic Mother”, by Megan McArdle, The Atlantic, 3/22/12

    [EXCERPT] . . . What is it Alex Portnoy overhears his mother say to her friends, apropos of the lengths she has to go to to get him to eat? “I have to stand over him with a knife!”
    To be a bit more serious for a moment, though, Chesterton famously quipped: “My country, right or wrong is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying: “My mother, drunk or sober.” Well, yes, but she is your mother, drunk or sober, right? Similarly, it is your country, whether your country is right or wrong. The question is what that entails. If your mother is a drunk, and begs for another drink, are you obliged to give it to her? Presumably not.
    But are you obliged to devote yourself to getting her to dry out? That, it seems to me is the real heart of the question. I think many of Beinart’s critics — like Jeffrey Goldberg — would say: that’s exactly how they think about Israel and the settlements. They are against them. . . They think they were and are a grave and historic mistake. . .
    . . . So they are doing what they can to convince their mother to check herself in and dry out. But she’s their mother. If it takes her a long time to convince, they’ll keep trying. If she slips a drink on the sly, they’ll try to hide the liquor better, but they’ll forgive her. [In other words, they will act as “enablers”. ~ J.L.D.] And, whatever she does, they certainly aren’t going to call the cops on her, and give the neighbors (who never liked her, even have tried to get her evicted) the satisfaction of seeing her humiliated by her own son in public. After all, she’s their mother. [Let’s call this “constructive engagement”! ~ J.L.D. ]
    Well, talk to a few children of alcoholics, and you’ll discover that “my mother, drunk or sober” is not always a tenable proposition. Sometimes, for some people, the sense of obligation to one’s mother is trumped by a sense of obligation to oneself, and to protect oneself from her disease. And that, in a nutshell, is what Beinart is saying. She may be my mother, yes, but if she keeps carrying on, I don’t care what the neighbors say, and I don’t care if she never speaks to me again afterward: I’m going to call the cops on her. . .


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