Listening to Secretary of State John Kerry last week call Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons on his own people a “moral obscenity” that “should shock the conscience of the world” was mind-blowing.
The assessment was not. What Kerry said should be self-evident and Assad’s actions, if true, worthy of often overused comparisons to Hitler and Stalin. What was shocking is that up until then I didn’t think that the administration believed in evil. This is the same administration that has refused to call Army Major Nadal Hasan’s murder of thirteen people and the injuring of 30 others at Fort Hood in 2009 a terrorist attack, preferring instead the meaningless label of “workplace violence,” contrary to all evidence.
It is the administration that calls the IRS targeting of conservative and tea party groups a “phony” scandal perpetrated by a few rogue agents which Congressional testimony proves false. It is also the administration that says Benghazi is old news and doesn’t matter. As former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified in January before Congress, “With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night decided to go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?”
The message is clear: ‘C’mon, facts don’t matter. It’s about moving forward.’
Except in this case, where Mr. Kerry’s language could not be more precise and consequences more clear. As he said, “But make no mistake: President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world’s most heinous weapons against the world’s most vulnerable people.”
That the administration would reserve its outrage for a foreign dictator when there are a dozen domestic issues where “moral obscenity” would be an apt description is disturbing, however. It is especially so because the U.S. government has a way to help ameliorate the problems in its borders in a way that it can’t by bombing Syria, where violent Islamists could fill the void if Assad is removed by the U.S. military.
Take the U.S. public school system, for example, a grim example of a “moral obscenity” for thousands of children who can barely read, write or do basic math when they graduate from high school, if they do. The Obama administration could be an advocate for excellence, but instead perpetuates the lie that money spent on the system is the main arbiter for academic success and is even suing Louisiana to force students there to stay in failing public schools.
Or what black on black violence? President Obama weighed in on the Trayvon Martin case to say, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” but remains largely silent about an urban culture where boys don’t expect to live past 25. And why can’t he speak out against having children out of wedlock, which almost guarantees a life of poverty for all who choose that path?
In light of President Obama’s move last Saturday to let Congress decide on the use of force in Syria and his comments earlier this week that he never “set a red line” regarding the use of chemical weapons, Mr. Kerry’s remarks should be viewed as a truth tic to be suppressed for the sake of his career.
Getting involved in Syria to punish Assad without an end goal is a bad idea. But Mr. Kerry’s quick negation by the president should let every other cabinet member and leader in his administration know that speaking about issues in terms of their moral significance is pointless.
Thankfully Mr. Kerry’s smack down came quickly so no one in the administration could get any ideas about speaking about our collective values and we can go back to not having any. It makes holding people accountable much easier again, since the word “accountable” can be used without having to enforce a standard.