In The Grip Of Shutdown Sameness

It’s been about six months since our last government crisis, so I guess we’re due.

This latest crisis arises — surprise! — from the inability of the Republicans and the Democrats, of the House of Representatives on one hand and the Senate and the President on the other, to agree on a short-term funding bill to keep the government operating.  If the parties do not come up with a way forward by midnight tonight, there will be a partial governmental shutdown.

Of course, the inability to agree on a continuing resolution is only the immediate cause of this latest “crisis.”  The issues cut much deeper.  From spending, to taxes, to the Affordable Care Act, to a host of other issues, our two political parties have fundamental differences of opinion about what government should do and its role in our everyday lives.

I’m not going to write today, however, about those policy differences.  It’s all been written before, by countless people, and there really isn’t anything fresh or compelling to be said.  I would simply point out to our political leaders that, when you constantly lurch from one “crisis” to another, the state of “crisis” eventually becomes the norm.  We’ve gone through the brinksmanship and the dire warnings again and again, and we’re still here.  Sequestration took effect . . . and the sun rose the next day.  After a while, the constant cries of wolf fall on deaf ears.

If this latest “crisis” provokes a partial government shutdown, how many Americans will even care?  They’ll find refuge in the final episodes of Breaking Bad, or the baseball playoffs, or something else of more immediate interest and impact on their lives.  Sadly, our political leaders may actually have let the country drift to the point where most people don’t even give a crap that our government is totally dysfunctional.

Forgotten Syria, Powerless UN

People have forgotten about Syria, but not because things have gotten better there.  Instead, Syria has simply been knocked off the front page by the French action in Mali, Lance Armstrong’s confession, and countless other, fresher stories.

Yesterday, evidence emerged of another horrific mass killing in Syria.  More than 70 bodies were found by a river near the town of Aleppo; some had hands tied behind their backs and gun shot wounds to the head.  The UN estimates that more than 60,000 people have been killed in a conflict between the Assad government and opposition groups that has lasted for a year.  The opposition blames the government, and the government blames the opposition forces, and in the meantime Syrians keep getting slaughtered.

Predictably, the news of the latest massacre brought another call for international intervention and action by the UN Security Council.  There will be no UN action, of course, because the Security Council is deadlocked, with China and Russia resisting any action that might be taken against the Assad government.  Even the U.S., Great Britain, and France are just pushing for resolutions that threaten sanctions.  UN resolutions aren’t likely to do much good when armed men are kicking in your door and taking members of your family out for execution.

We’re paying no attention to it, but Syria should be teaching us two valuable lessons and reminding us of a third, sad reality of the modern world.  The first lesson is that the UN is a weak institution that will rarely take decisive action; contrast the French action in Mali to the UN’s dithering about Syria, and you get a good idea of the difference between a nation and an “international institution.”  The second lesson is that the cries of the “Arab street” about mistreatment of Arabs are hollow and hypocritical.  Where are the mass protests in front of Syrian embassies throughout the Arab world when each new outrage is unveiled?  We should all remember the lack of any meaningful Arab response to the murder of thousands of Syrians the next time we hear angry Arab denunciations of claimed Israeli misconduct toward the Palestinians or American unfairness.

And the cold, cruel reality is that the world has only so much appetite for horror and outrage before it turns off the TV.  The BBC story linked above refers to the “Syria crisis,” but that’s not quite right.  A true “crisis” involves a crucial point of decision.  That doesn’t exist here, because the world seems to have accepted that the Assad regime will remain in power and continue to kill its opponents.  If there were a policeman in front of the yellow tape surrounding the Syrian crime scene, he would be saying:  “There’s nothing to see here.  Move along.”