Notwithstanding the Labor Day weekend, the President's decision to take the case for a military response to the chemical weapons attack in Syria to Congress has drawn a couple of quick responses from some usual blog suspects, Volokh Conspiracy's Ilya Somin and Dale Carpenter. A Friday post at Balkinization by Stephen Griffin preceding the President's decision commented on the constitutionality of a Syrian intervention, and John Yoo at NRO Online the same day urged the President to act, saying that the benefits of intervention outweigh the costs. Constitutional questions aside, the enormous perils of action and inaction alike explain why no one is predicting with confidence how Congress will react.
In the face of such momentous uncertainty, this excerpt from the late poet Seamus Heaney's Nobel address seems achingly apt:
One of the most harrowing moments in the whole history of the harrowing of the heart in Northern Ireland came when a minibus full of workers being driven home one January evening in 1976 was held up by armed and masked men and the occupants of the van ordered at gunpoint to line up at the side of the road. Then one of the masked executioners said to them, “Any Catholics among you, step out here.” As it happened, this particular group, with one exception, were all Protestants, so the presumption must have been that the masked men were Protestant paramilitaries about to carry out a tit-for-tat sectarian killing of the Catholic as the odd man out, the one who would have been presumed to be in sympathy with the IRA and all its actions. It was a terrible moment for him, caught between dread and witness, but he did make a motion to step forward. Then, the story goes, in that split second of decision, and in the relative cover of the winter evening darkness, he felt the hand of the Protestant worker next to him take his hand and squeeze it in a signal that said no, don't move, we'll not betray you, nobody need know what faith or party you belong to. All in vain, however, for the man stepped out of the line; but instead of finding a gun at his temple, he was pushed away as the gunmen opened fire on those remaining in the line, for these were not Protestant terrorists, but members, presumably, of the Provisional IRA.
Heaney goes on to suggest that history may be "about as instructive as an abattoir." But there's this to cling to. In one's last moments on earth, one could certainly do worse than a courageous squeeze of a mate's hand.
Stock Photo: off the coast of Haifa, Israel.