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‘Just One Word From The Great Obama’

A reader sends this piece about a small convent of Trappist nuns living in Syria. [1]These nuns established their presence in conscious imitation of the martyred French Trappist monks of Algeria, whose story was told in the film Of Gods And Men [2]. Here is a bit of their August 29 message:

We look at the people around us, our day workers who are all here as if suspended, stunned: “They’ve decided to attack us.” Today we went to Tartous…we felt the anger, the helplessness, the inability to formulate a sense to all this: the people trying their best to work and to live normally. You see the farmers watering their land, parents buying notebooks for the schools that are about to begin, unknowing children asking for a toy or an ice cream…you see the poor, so many of them, trying to scrape together a few coins. The streets are full of the “inner” refugees of Syria, who have come from all over to the only area left that is still relatively liveable…. You see the beauty of these hills, the smile on people’s faces, the good-natured gaze of a boy who is about to join the army and gives us the two or three peanuts he has in his pocket as a token of “togetherness”…. And then you remember that they have decided to bomb us tomorrow. … Just like that. Because “it’s time to do something,” as it is worded in the statements of the important men, who will be sipping their tea tomorrow as they watch TV to see how effective their humanitarian intervention will be….

Will they make us breathe the toxic gases of the depots they hit, tomorrow, so as to punish us for the gases we have already breathed in?

The people are straining their eyes and ears in front of the television: all they’re waiting for is a word from Obama!

change_me

A word from Obama? Will the Nobel Peace Prize winner drop his sentence of war onto us? Despite all justice, all common sense, all mercy, all humility, all wisdom?

The Pope has spoken up, patriarchs and bishops have spoken up, numberless witnesses have spoken up, analysts and people of experience have spoken up, even the opponents of the regime have spoken up…. Yet here we all are, waiting for just one word from the great Obama? And if it weren’t him, it would be someone else. It isn’t he who is “the great one,” it is the Evil One who these days is really acting up.

35 Comments (Open | Close)

35 Comments To "‘Just One Word From The Great Obama’"

#1 Comment By Bernie On September 2, 2013 @ 9:28 am

I think Russia will play a role in Congress’ vote on attacking Syria. News accounts speak of its moving a spy ship to the eastern Mediterranean and of Putin warning of our involvement. Putin and President Obama will meet in Russia this week. One could easily see Putin’s lack of respect for Obama in his body language at their last meeting. We have not been attacked by Syria and getting involved there is not in America’s interest. Poor everybody.

#2 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On September 2, 2013 @ 9:42 am

This is indeed a tangled tale — and a cautionary one for those who blindly chant “We must do something to save the Christians of Syria.” There appears no reason to doubt that this is a sincere statement of how things look from the point of view of those who prepared this message, and a useful perspective it is, too.

As might be expected, Christian nuns in Syria and those living in their immediate vicinity view the prospect of American military action against the Assad regime for use of chemical weapons as “They’re going to bomb US,” not, they’re going to bomb the evil dictator, hallelujah.

Its difficult to make distinctions among the people of a nation when raining down explosive missiles. It was possible in Libya. There were those who thanked France and America for taking out the tanks about to open fire on a defenseless population. But clearly such distinctions are not easy to make in Syria.

Obama really should be careful not to punish innocent people for the poison gases they have already breathed in. That might mean forgoing action, when action is not possible without unacceptable collateral damage.

[NFR: Huh? The people who are especially concerned about the Christians of Syria are those who are *against* bombing. — RD]

#3 Comment By Forester On September 2, 2013 @ 10:09 am

What’s with the snarky headline? It puts the back up of people like me and I almost didn’t click on the post. I’m glad I did, though, because this letter from the nuns was a beautiful expression of what I am feeling myself. You chose to extract a single sentence from the piece for your headline, out of context, because to you, it’s all about Obama. These nuns really get it, though, because the next sentence in their letter is ” And if it weren’t him, it would be someone else.”

[NFR: Because it’s a striking formulation. You should not be surprised to find skepticism of Barack Obama on a site called The American Conservative. — RD]

#4 Comment By ck On September 2, 2013 @ 10:38 am

God bless America? How about God have mercy on our American souls?

#5 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On September 2, 2013 @ 10:45 am

[NFR: Huh? The people who are especially concerned about the Christians of Syria are those who are *against* bombing. — RD]

ALL of them? My greatest skepticism toward those who highlight the suffering of Christians in Syria, and in Egypt, is the lack of any plan to help them. Of course, one reason for the absence of concrete proposals is that there is probably nothing feasible to be done to help them.

If we had the right allies to work with inside Syria, we could send elite teams to establish the perimeter of a defended sanctuary, recruit and train an Army of The Good, and gradually expand it to the detriment of both the Assad regime and the jihadis. But I don’t see that happening.

[NFR: Can you point to a single American source advocating bombing Syria to relieve the plight of Syrian Christians? — RD]

#6 Comment By Phil On September 2, 2013 @ 11:23 am

[NFR: You should not be surprised to find skepticism of Barack Obama on a site called The American Conservative. — RD]

Do you have an Obama bashing quota you have to meet? Are you allowed to say anything positive about him? Serious question.

[NFR: It’s actually not a serious question, unless you just discovered TAC the day before yesterday. One of the reasons some conservatives dislike TAC is that we tend to spend more time being critical of our own side than we are of Obama. If you care to spend any time on my archives here, you will find far more criticism of the GOP than of Obama. It’s not that I have much love for Obama — I don’t, though I think on balance he’s been better than McCain or Romney would have been — but that I’m more interested in my own side getting smarter and better. I am not a liberal Democrat; Obama is. I think it’s especially important, though, to criticize Obama hard on his war stance, because he was so critical — and rightly so! — of Bush’s Mideast wars. — RD]

#7 Comment By isaacplautus On September 2, 2013 @ 11:38 am

I don’t think we should bomb Syria because it wouldn’t have a net positive gain. I will say if the Syrian opposition was more respecting of human rights I would support a military strike against Assad. But I find the anti-Obama snark in a post like this to be grating; as if Obama can’t wait to destroy the Christian population in Syria. Watch the videos of the children coughing to death from Assad’s gas attack. I think bombing the Assad regime is foolish strategy. But I certainly find little in Assad’s regime worth defending. Obviously Christians are better off under Assad than the opposition. But that’s like saying life is better under a thorn bush than drowning.

#8 Comment By T.S.Gay On September 2, 2013 @ 11:46 am

“…Yet here we all are, waiting for just one word from the great Obama?”

Certainly it is a question from the nuns in this convent in Syria. Certainly the question is more than two-fold to all of us about where we are coming from. Certainly they bring up a Nobel prize winner for peace dropping a sentence of war on their people and place. And they obviously feel intervening would be against all justice, common sense, mercy, humility, and wisdom. They just think that people who make these bombing, gassing, weapons use, or missile decisions are driven by unseen influences they don’t even understand. They think this spiritual age we live has real underlying meaning for good and for bad. There are many today that don’t think like these nuns, who place belief in the evolved processes on this planet over many, many more years than this spirit age we now live. We who believe like the nuns, should at least admit that their is a lot of reality behind the material point of view. But the positivists should investigate scientifically that the history of men over the very brief spirit age of the last 2000 generations of men shows that the nuns point of view has applicability to the situation at hand. If you won’t take it from nuns, I think you have to take it from psychoanalysis. We really have to get to the bottom of where we are coming from. As a question.

#9 Comment By Charles Cosimano On September 2, 2013 @ 12:17 pm

No one is afraid of the Russians, but no one wants to get us involved in a situation which has no benefit to us no matter how it turns out. What do we gain from spending billions of dollars in munitions? The prayers of the nuns?

We can’t afford another war. Certainly not a war that we gain nothing from.

#10 Comment By Deggjr On September 2, 2013 @ 12:21 pm

So Assad let the Trappist nuns publish this message? That proves he’s benevolent and not a barbarian.

#11 Comment By VikingLS On September 2, 2013 @ 12:22 pm

Siarlys are you just looking for an angle here to argue? Nobody here is arguing for an intervention on behalf of Syria’s Christians. I haven’t seen anybody argue for that even amongst Orthodox Christians, let alone the large number of people you’re implying are.

“If we had the right allies to work with inside Syria, we could send elite teams to establish the perimeter of a defended sanctuary, recruit and train an Army of The Good, and gradually expand it to the detriment of both the Assad regime and the jihadis. But I don’t see that happening.”

This is an absurd suggestion even if you could convince the people who run this country to interven on behalf of Christians.

If you have to invent things to have something to say about one of Rod’s posts you can just not comment.

#12 Comment By Athanasius On September 2, 2013 @ 12:37 pm

It’s interesting that we can literally carve a new state out of Serbia to ostensibly protect Muslims (when we fabricate atrocities against them… the “100,000 dead Albanians” claimed by Albright has gone down the memory hole).

But Christians can be wiped out in Iraq, Egypt, and Syria, and there is nothing we can do.

#13 Comment By CharleyCarp On September 2, 2013 @ 1:38 pm

Calling the President “great” “the One” “Messiah” and all the rest isn’t critical, it’s juvenile. And no more conducive to reasoned discussion than calling his predecessor “Chimpy McHaliburton” or whatever.

The US isn’t deciding whether or not there is going to be war in Syria. Nor whether or not innocent civilians are going to get killed in the war that is already going on.

I oppose military involvement by the US in this (what we’ve done so far and what we’re talking about doing) but one shouldn’t act as if we’re bloodthirsty foreigners inflicting war on a peaceful population.

[NFR: The adjective was used by these nuns who are in the country that stands to be bombed by us. Give them a break. — RD]

#14 Comment By James G. On September 2, 2013 @ 3:25 pm

ck says: “God bless America? How about God have mercy on our American souls?”

Lord, have mercy.

#15 Comment By Church Lady On September 2, 2013 @ 3:40 pm

There’s already a major civil war ongoing in the country. Assad’s military has already killed tens of thousands of people, some by poison gas, and will kill many more. What I wonder is, how do these nuns feel about all the people Assad is killing, to at least indirectly protect these nuns from persecution? Are they okay with that? Because if they are, I really have to wonder about their commitment to Christianity.

#16 Comment By Labropotes On September 2, 2013 @ 4:16 pm

I wouldn’t read your stuff if I didn’t think it made me “smarter and better” — I won’t say improved — most of the time. Thanks!

#17 Comment By Francis J. Beckwith On September 2, 2013 @ 4:47 pm

“Calling the President “great” “the One” “Messiah” and all the rest isn’t critical, it’s juvenile.”

It’s wrong to call the President “it.”

#18 Comment By cecelia On September 2, 2013 @ 4:59 pm

Well – Obama might not bomb them – but Assad for sure will and then the rebels will bomb them and it will go on and on and on. It will take a miracle for those nuns to survive this.

Rod – I would like to think that “conservative” does not mean that one is obliged to attack whoever the non conservative president is but rather a conservative site would focus on the issues within the context of a conservative viewpoint. What I like about TAC is that very often it is not perverted with the ugly and very destructive partisan nonsense that other allegedly conservative sites feature. So yeah – highlighting that statement was tacky and partisan.

Given how tribal partisanship is so much of the horror that is occurring in Syria I would hope that we could recognize where this might take us here in the US as a people if we do not chill out.

If there is any lesson in Syria – it is about the danger of partisan/tribal ways of dealing with differing ideas. We really really need to move back from the brink and finds ways to conduct our discussions that are respectful of each other.

#19 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On September 2, 2013 @ 5:20 pm

Touch a nerve Viking? I know what I suggested is infeasible. Much as my blood boils to see overgrown punks firing automatic weapons at kneeling children, and cheering lustily about it, I also think its infeasible to send in squads of marines to save them. I outlined what WOULD be beneficial IF feasible, while noting that there is no way we could pull off such a thing. If we can’t do that, probably best not to go in at all. (That means we agree).

I am a bit cynical about the attention paid at this site, and a few others, to highlighting the suffering of Syrian and Egyptian Christians, WITHOUT any semblance of a notion of what we should do about it. Are the Copts and Syrian Orthodox supposed to die happy that at least someone is blogging about it? Either advocate that the U.S. join the Russian Federation in giving full support to the Assad regime as the best hope of the Christian population, or proposed a way to rescue them (without bringing them all here — we don’t have planes, ships, or land enough), or make a case that arming the right resistance forces will actually make life better for them… or tone it down.

[NFR: Can you point to a single American source advocating bombing Syria to relieve the plight of Syrian Christians? — RD]

I believe all the neo-cons are using both the ultimate good of Israel and the fate of the Christians as talking points. You’re not a neo-con, and I suppose the neo-cons really want boots on the ground, but for now it seems they will settle for bombing.

The manner in which we are talking past each other suggests again how ambiguous any heartfelt expression becomes when one asks, “What shall we do?” Are the nuns supporting the Assad regime? Are they staying above it all? Are they the voice of the great silent majority of Syrians? Where does this really lead anyway?

#20 Comment By James On September 2, 2013 @ 5:53 pm

Rod –
By the way, Christian de Chergé was a seminarist at the Séminaire des Carmes, on the Institut Catholique de Paris campus, which you and your family had visited (re: “Hic Deciderunt”) last Fall. The seminary has set up a gallery in the hallway leading to Frère de Chergé’s old room – or rather “cell” – which can also be visited on occasion: [3]

Lest one forget, “hic deciderunt” is resultant from the tragic events today on this date (September 2nd) in 1792

#21 Comment By Church Lady On September 2, 2013 @ 7:04 pm

Are the Copts and Syrian Orthodox supposed to die happy that at least someone is blogging about it?

Oh, this. I have to admit to laughing badly over this thought of yours.

#22 Comment By David J. White On September 2, 2013 @ 7:15 pm

Lest one forget, “hic deciderunt” is resultant from the tragic events today on this date (September 2nd) in 1792

*c*eciderunt.

(third person plural, perfect indicative active of cado, cadere, cecidi, casurum)

(I wouldn’t correct you except that you made the same mistake twice in your post, which indicates that it probably wasn’t inadvertent.)

#23 Comment By David J. White On September 2, 2013 @ 7:17 pm

Calling the President “great” “the One” “Messiah” and all the rest isn’t critical, it’s juvenile.

Am I the only one who is reminded of “The Great and Powerful Oz”? We all know how that turned out.

#24 Comment By Opinion Pole On September 2, 2013 @ 7:23 pm

This is not a Conservative versus Liberal argument. There are warmongering maniacs on both sides. Obama got elected by promising to do better than this. Bombing Syria helps no one, it’s an utterly despicable idea that deserves condemnation. Since common sense and decency don’t seem to be working, a bit of ridicule might just get through. These nuns and the innocent people around them are in the line of fire, ridicule against bombs. How are they the aggressors here?

#25 Comment By WorkingClass On September 2, 2013 @ 7:40 pm

Thanks for this post Rod and for being on the right side of this issue. Assad is the protector of the nuns. Obama is the enemy of Assad. That much at least is not complicated.

#26 Comment By alcogito On September 2, 2013 @ 9:01 pm

“And what can WE do to stop this?” was the conversation at the BBQ this afternoon.

Concensus, we can share our opinion with our friends and do the one thing we can: send an email to our Senators and Congressman, and try to get everybody to do the same. Here in the Seattle area it is probably wasted as all three of them are Obama rubberstampers, but it is step one. Then let’s term-limit most of them. Replace then with anybody. Anybody would be better than the batch we have now.

[NFR: Interesting. At the barbecue I attended, people were talking about this too. Almost everybody there is a Republican (or in my case, a conservative Independent), and every single person who spoke about it was against this move. It wasn’t because it was an Obama thing, but because, as one of them said, “It’s not America’s place to be the policeman of the world.” War-weariness was another theme in the conversation. — RD]

#27 Comment By alcogito On September 2, 2013 @ 9:01 pm

Oops, Consensus.

#28 Comment By Annek On September 2, 2013 @ 9:48 pm

David J. White:

“Am I the only one who is reminded of “The Great and Powerful Oz”? We all know how that turned out.”

I though that, too!

#29 Comment By VikingLS On September 2, 2013 @ 11:05 pm

Siarlys

No you didn’t touch a nerve. You invented a situation to have something to address. No
one is arguing for US intervention in Syria to protect Christians.

It’s pointless to argue that the US intervene on the side of Christians in particular when we know perfectly well that the US will not do so. The most we can do is try and convince the US not to actively enable their persecutors.

Were you a Russian I would discuss with you what I believe Russia’s obligations in Syra are. I have no interest in discussing that with you because you don’t have the background and I wouldn’t gain anything from the discussion.

Again, if you have to invent imaginary people advocating imaginary positions to have something to discuss you probably need to find a better use of your time.

#30 Comment By Barbara On September 3, 2013 @ 6:02 am

I am sure that many of the same individuals at your barbecue were completely supportive of the war in Iraq – and called those that were skeptical “unamerican.” Sadly, the Iraq war will haunt this country in the same way the Viet Nam war did. As the superpower, there are times we must play the world’s policeman. Is Syria one of those times? I am not sure, but happy the issue will be properly debated.

#31 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On September 3, 2013 @ 10:33 am

Were you a Russian I would discuss with you what I believe Russia’s obligations in Syra are. I have no interest in discussing that with you because you don’t have the background and I wouldn’t gain anything from the discussion.

Viking, you doth protest too much. I am indeed in no position to speak as a Russian to what Russia should be doing, because I am not a Russian. That’s more or less the same reason I have nothing meaningful to say if the Episcopalians in New Hampshire elect a gay bishop, nothing to say about who should be elected President of Egypt, and why I laugh when The Economist pontificates from London about who is the better candidate for Chancellor of Germany, President of the United States, Prime Minister of Israel, Governor of Colorado, or Prime Minister of Jamaica.

Its pointless to talk about the plight of Christians in the middle east if you have NO program to help them.

And since you have missed it entirely, I must briefly repeat the following:

The manner in which we are talking past each other suggests again how ambiguous any heartfelt expression becomes when one asks, “What shall we do?” Are the nuns supporting the Assad regime? Are they staying above it all? Are they the voice of the great silent majority of Syrians? Where does this really lead anyway?

Almost everybody there is a Republican (or in my case, a conservative Independent), and every single person who spoke about it was against this move. It wasn’t because it was an Obama thing, but because, as one of them said, “It’s not America’s place to be the policeman of the world.”

If that becomes a sustained trend, there is real hope for our country. Republicans and conservatives in Louisiana are behind the mainstream of the anti-Vietnam War movement.

#32 Comment By Joe On September 3, 2013 @ 10:38 am

Church Lady says:

There’s already a major civil war ongoing in the country. Assad’s military has already killed tens of thousands of people, some by poison gas, and will kill many more. What I wonder is, how do these nuns feel about all the people Assad is killing, to at least indirectly protect these nuns from persecution? Are they okay with that? Because if they are, I really have to wonder about their commitment to Christianity.

Seriously, Church Lady? So it logically follows that just because the nuns are against the US bombing of Syria, they *must* be in favor of Assad’s actions?

If anything, the post indicates that they had a less than favorable view of the use of the chemical weapons. They are saying the US will worsen what has already been done.

#33 Comment By VikingLS On September 3, 2013 @ 1:08 pm

Siarlys

Now let me repeat. You started this thread rebuking imaginary people making an imaginary argument. Now you’re rebuking real people for not making that same argument. That’s ludicrous.

Keeping the US from intervening to help the Jihadis is the most we are able to do as Americans. The American government won’t do anything to actually help Christians. (Go back in the archives and check out Andrew Doran’s piece.)

That’s the plan to help them, keep our government from hurting them.

Were the argument made that we should assist the Syrian or Egyptian Christians I suspect the Church Lady “they supported the dictator, they can’t complain now that it’s coming back to bite them, the obviously weren’t Christians anyway” argument would win the day.

#34 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On September 3, 2013 @ 7:43 pm

Viking, do you really believe that by repeating a straw man often enough, you can breathe life into it and make it The Truth? I can’t find anything anywhere in this entire thread that is remotely described by your self-serving characterization. You haven’t said anything new in your last three comments. Wake up, and smell the coffee. Talk to us about what each of us (differently and in our own way) has said, not about what you said we didn’t say.

It doesn’t logically follow that the nuns must be adherents of Assad, but I posed the question, what, if anything, do they stand for, who, if anyone, do they support, and what, if any, significance does this letter therefore have? Nobody has an answer.

[NFR: Siarlys, I just don’t understand you on this. — RD]

#35 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On September 4, 2013 @ 10:39 am

Siarlys, I just don’t understand you on this. — RD

The proper assumption if I am not understood is that I have not adequately explained what I’m trying to say.

As far as the specific of what Viking is saying, I don’t understand him either, but he seems to think I’m jousting with windmills or straw men, and he keeps repeating this, without adding any new explanation of what in the world he is talking about. I’ve tried to add a new layer every time I reply to him, to offer a more focused picture of what I’m trying to say, and to seek something of the sort from him.

Going back to your own dismayed clarification that those anguished over the fate of Syrian Christians are NOT the ones calling for intervention, I freely conceded that this is your position, and Viking’s (he has explicitly said so himself).

Trying to come to terms with what the letter from the Trappist nuns actually means, is rather difficult. Its an anguished cry to be left in peace, and it takes the position that they are more afraid of American missiles being launched than not being launched. Reference to “One word from the great Obama” suggests that they have little notion of how politics works in the United States, or what our president’s motivations might be, but then, they are used to living at the word of the great Assad.

I thought this paragraph was fairly clear: The manner in which we are talking past each other suggests again how ambiguous any heartfelt expression becomes when one asks, “What shall we do?” Are the nuns supporting the Assad regime? Are they staying above it all? Are they the voice of the great silent majority of Syrians? Where does this really lead anyway?

We don’t know. Perhaps what makes me difficult to understand is that I haven’t demonized anyone in the debate. We all agree that Assad is a vicious dictator heading a ruthless government machine, and that domination by armed jihadis is a miserable existence, but I’m talking about the debate among those outside Syria.

There are no good options. The fact that someone leans toward one bad option vs. another bad option doesn’t per se make them bad. John McCain is a bit of a caricature, he hardly ever saw a military adventure he didn’t like. But in general, the more conflicted our leaders are, the better I respect them. There ARE good arguments every which way, and ALL those good arguments lead to potential disaster.