So What? The End of the Era of Compassion

Compassion fatigue may finally be setting in.  David Cameron’s newly elected conservative government is planning to repeal the “1998 Human Rights Act [which] had the effect of extending the protections listed in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into domestic UK law” and replacing it with all British legislation.  Everyone on the left, including the Scottish National Party, has vowed to oppose Cameron, believing — rightly — that it would drive a stake through the legal edifice the progressives have so carefully constructed.


But Cameron probably senses which way the political wind is blowing.  The strong turnout of UKIP, which polled twice as many voters as SNP, is an indicator that many voters have had it up to their necks with human rights. And it’s not just the Europeans.

Thomas Fuller of the New York Times notes that thousands of Muslim Rohiyngya refugees are sailing the Andaman Sea looking for a country to take them, but no one will. Not even, probably especially not, Muslim countries.

A wooden fishing boat carrying several hundred migrants from Myanmar was spotted adrift in the Andaman Sea on Thursday, part of an exodus in which thousands of people have taken to the sea in recent weeks but no country has been willing to take them in.

Cries of “Please help us! I have no water!” rose from the boat as a vessel carrying journalists approached. “Please give me water!” …

Their presence has created a regionwide crisis in Southeast Asia. Most were thought to be headed to Malaysia, but after more than 1,500 migrants came ashore in Malaysia and Indonesia in the past week, both countries declared their intention to turn away any more boats carrying migrants. Thai officials have not articulated an official policy since the crisis began, but Thailand is not known to have allowed any of the migrants to land there.

There’s a real possibility that the Southeast Asians are just going to let them die. Over by another narrow sea, the Mediterranean, just a stone’s throw from Europe, millions of Syrians have pretty much been given up for dead. Gas is once again being openly employed. It now appears clear that president Assad lied to Obama when he said he would surrender his chemical weapons. Such weapons and evidence of their use is becoming increasingly apparent, and international humanitarian organizations are urging Obama to draw a real “red line” this time, as Peter Baker and Eric Schmitt of the New York Times report.


If President Obama hoped that the danger of chemical warfare in the Middle East receded when Syria gave up tons of poison gas, mounting evidence that toxic weapons remain in the strife-torn country could once again force him to decide just how far he is willing to go to enforce his famous “red line.”

The discovery of traces of ricin and sarin in Syria, combined with the use of chlorine as a makeshift weapon in the country’s grinding civil war, undercut what Mr. Obama had viewed as a signal triumph of his foreign policy, the destruction of President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical arsenal.

But Mr. Obama appears no more eager to use military force against Mr. Assad’s government today than he was in 2013 when he abruptly called off a threatened airstrike in exchange for a Russian-brokered agreement in which Syria voluntarily gave up its chemical weapons. Instead, the Obama administration responded to reports of violations this time by seeking renewed assistance from Russia and exploring a new United Nations Security Council resolution addressing Syria’s continued use of chemicals as weapons.

“You’re dealing with a regime that is not very credible on weapons of mass destruction programs,” said Robert Ford, the Obama administration’s former ambassador to Syria. “No one should be surprised the regime didn’t declare all of its facilities. But the bad news in all of this is the regime is using chemical weapons regularly — even if not sarin gas now, they’re using chlorine gas regularly and they are not deterred from doing so.”

The “signal triumph” of Obama’s foreign policy turned out to be as phony as 3 dollar bill. Ford should have added that the Obama administration is not very credible on drawing red lines either, which is probably why Obama is awaiting help from Putin, so that  his threat is a “red, red line” this time.  But realistically, Obama has neither the stomach nor the political support, to start something no one is convinced he’ll finish.


The repeal of the 1998 Human Rights Act, the closing of the doors to refugees and the kick-the-can-down the road of president Obama suggest that an era is ending and a new, Hobbesian age is begun.  People are suffering and voters are saying “tell me something I don’t know”.  There are more than 50 million refugees wandering the world today, more than at any time since World War 2 and it looks like we’re going to let them keep wandering. The Europeans are actually planning to bomb people smuggler boats while they’re on the beach in Libya to to stem the tide of “migrants” to Europe, despite the Guardian’s impassioned plea to desist.

In the small Libyan port of Zuwara, one of the main points of departure for migrants seeking to reach Italy, dozens if not hundreds of fishing boats line the quay. It’s an innocuous sight: blue wooden skiffs knocking against each other in the breeze. But if Europe wants to use military force to smash Libya’s smuggling trade, these are the boats they will have to destroy.

On Monday, the EU seeks to persuade the UN security council to back military operations against smuggling fleets in Zuwara and other coastal towns up and down Libya’s western seaboard. But even with the UN’s go-ahead, such a strategy may not be straightforward – and the blue boats bobbing in the harbour in Zuwara illustrate why.

Contrary to mainstream portrayals, Libya’s smugglers are not one cohesive organisation with a clear chain of command, or identifiable assets. They do not have an easily targeted fleet at their disposal, anchored in areas separate from civilian life.


“They’re civilians! They’re fishermen! They are people of color!” In the past, such an objection would be unanswerable. Today the answer is probably, “so what?” Many years ago I wrote a post called the Three Conjectures in which I argued that the whole point of the War on Terror was to nip it in the bud, because once things got bad,  once things got out of hand, the liberal Western populations would be begging their leaders to commit any atrocity — any atrocity at all — to keep them safe and fed.

We think of ourselves as civilized.  Yet mortal danger and need have a way of wearing away the veneer of civilization leaving only the raw human animal underneath. The Guardian may well appeal to “humanity”, but it should always remember that it was “humanity” — the base humanity which we don’t like to think about — which caused these tragedies in the first place.

The first rule of civilization is to preserve it. Once enough of it is conceded to barbarism, when a sufficient quantity of it has been worn away then things tip over entirely into savagery. It goes right over the cliff. The lesson of the Second World War was that anyone, pushed hard enough, could be an animal.  We’re not there yet. But we’re on the way.

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