War clouds hang over Syria, as the USA leisurely concentrates its forces for an attack. The USA has said quite firmly that Syria has been using chemical weapons against its own people. That is presumably more reprehensible than using them against other people. It might be more reprehensible, but is it more or less civilized? Gas is indeed terrible when used as a weapon, but perhaps it should not be forgotten that it was used in World War I for the first time, though at the end of the war it was hoped that it would be the only time. It was not used in World War II, because it was too difficult to control, not because of any moral objection. After all, this was the war which was ended by the use of nuclear weapons. Though by the time they were used, the Germans had been defeated, they had raced to build a weapon first. If Hitler had got hold of an atomic bomb, it would have been London marking the anniversaries, and the slow agonizing deaths of young people, not Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

And they say that Hiroshima and Nagasaki went through the horror only to save American lives. Well, at least American lives, which would have spent in the expected tough island-by-island fighting Japan would have conducted, were saved. What would nuking the Brits have done? The British may well be asking themselves that question now, 68 years later, as their Parliament decided to leave Syria alone. The USA might be pretending that this has no effect, and it will take unilateral action if necessary, but this very public rebuff definitely throws the spanner in the works. Come to think of it, there’s a certain logic. David Cameron never talked about red lines. Barack Obama did. So if Bashar did any crossing, why should Cameron have to attack him? That leaves the focus on Obama. So he’ll have to make an unpopular choice. Well, that’s what he was elected President for.

It now seems that he wants to put off the attack for a little while, suddenly remembering that he needs congressional approval.  Well, maybe he does. However, George W, Bush didn’t. He just invaded not just Afghanistan but then Iraq without asking anybody. Obama, being black, is not so sure of himself. Remember, Bush was not only white, the son of a President and grandson of a Senator, but he was also from Texas, of which he had been Governor. Obama is not just the black son of an immigrant, he’s also from Illinois. That doesn’t make more inclined to getting congressional approval, but likelier to get cold feet.

In fact, Mian Nawaz should learn. He still left the matter in someone else’s hands when his Adviser, Sartaj Aziz, told the National Assembly that Pakistan was waiting for the UN inspectors’ report. Instead, he should say that Mian Nawaz never said anything about any red line, so no one should ask him anything. As far as Mian Nawaz was concerned, Bashar just had an aggressive population control programme. That might get us in Pakistan worried, until we remember that Mian Nawaz has to face elections by 2018, Bashar never does. So Bashar can afford to have killed about 100,000 citizens so far, and sent millions into exile. He doesn’t have to worry about the votes they could have given him if alive or at home. He reminds me of the Roman Emperor Tiberius, who once said, “I don’t care if they hate me, so long as they obey me.” He was succeeded by his great-nephew Caligula, who was once heard wishing, “Would that the Roman people had one neck…”

That might be the principle followed by former PML(Q) MNA Liaquat Abbas Bhatti in the case of his maid Shahida, recovered from the servant quarters of his house in the chains she was put in every night. Bhatti was probably using the Syrian formula. And Shahida could be forgiven for not being too concerned about the plight of the Syrian people. Their chains were only metaphorical, while hers were physical. And there is something peculiarly wrong about parents handing over a daughter to someone they owe money, and then handing her back after she had run away. One can hardly imagine how abandoned she felt as she tried to sleep with her chains on her. True, she did not have to be gassed before the police intervened. Well, I suppose Bhatti can console himself with the knowledge that he did to one girl what Bashar has done to a whole country. But he’s likelier to turn around and say plaintively, “What have I done?”