Lew, Jakin, Obama and ABBA

Who can forget Kipling’s story about an unnamed British regiment, who first time out in Afghanistan, fled before a charge of the Ghazis.

Horrified, amused, and indignant, the Gurkhas beheld the retirement of the Fore and Aft with a running chorus of oaths and commentaries.

‘They run! The white men run! Colonel Sahib, may we also do a little running?’ murmured Runbir Thappa, the Senior Jemadar.


Everyone that is, but for the regimental drummer boys, Lew and Jakin, who were left behind as they were unable to keep up with the retreat.

Jakin and Lew would have fled also, but their short legs left them fifty yards in the rear … ‘Oh, the devils! They’ve gone an’ left us alone here! Wot’ll we do?’ …

‘We’re all that’s left of the Band, an’ we’ll be cut up as sure as death,’ said Jakin.

‘I’ll die game, then,’ said Lew thickly, fumbling with his tiny drummer’s sword. …

He slipped the drum-sling over his shoulder, thrust the fife into Lew’s hand, and the two boys marched out of the cover of the rock into the open, making a hideous hash of the first bars of the ‘British Grenadiers.’ …

The tune settled into full swing and the boys kept shoulder to shoulder, Jakin banging the drum as one possessed … The Fore and Aft were pouring out of the valley. What officers had said to men in that time of shame and humiliation will never be known; for neither officers nor men speak of it now.

Everyone who’re read Kipling knows what happened to Lew and Jakin.

The death of Times of London correspondent Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochilik by Syrian artillery in Homs may have similar results. It has prompted the British to summon the Syrian ambassador to protest amid reports that Damascus ordered the press center to be targeted as an object lesson to meddling foreigners.


Meanwhile, in other news, “the Obama administration, which has firmly rejected calls to arm the Syrian opposition, appeared at least to allow for the possibility Tuesday by emphasizing that “additional measures” might have to be considered if President Bashar al-Assad continues to escalate his military assault on civilians.”  That means the administration is apparently considering arming the Syrian opposition.

The model for intervention in Syria appears to be Libya, though administration sources say that Libya was different. Apparently, Libya was potentially better.  The situation in Syria is far more complicated. The Washington Post continues:

shelling of Syrian opposition strongholds, including the city of Homs, by government forces has all but assured that the subject of arming the opposition will be on the table at the “Friends of Syria” gathering, where Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will head the U.S. delegation …

The Tunis meeting is patterned after a “Friends of Libya” conference that preceded international military intervention in that country. But administration officials said the Libyan situation had been far different, with a united political and military force opposed to leader Moammar Gaddafi.

The administration has been disappointed at the inability of the largely Sunni Syrian opposition to unify and to persuade minority Shiites, Christians and other groups to join against Assad. The leadership and organization of opposition military forces, primarily defectors who have formed the Free Syria Army, remain relatively opaque.


That means that if the rebels are armed it will be a dispatch of support to “whom it may concern”. Although the President has named his policy “leading from behind”, certain aspects of diplomacy ought to take their name from ABBA’s hit tune, “Take a Chance on Me”.

The problem with leading from behind is that it leaves the direction of events to individuals whose eventual goals are unknown.  The death of Colvin and the French photographer are unlikely to be the last. More events like these, like the fatal charge of Lew and Jakin, are likely to draw in Western politicians out of sheer shame.

But shame is not thought; still less is it leadership. As Syria becomes more an more unstable, the vortex will draw in forces backed by outside powers from all around the region, like the Spanish Civil War did nearly 80 years ago. That is perhaps now unavoidable, but the worst policy to implement in such a dangerous confluence is to Lead From Behind.

Sooner or later the Man From Chicago is going to have his move. Maybe the spin doctors are working on it already. Fortunately, there’s a ready-made sound track for it. Here’s the Lego version.

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