I wrote this parable to vent my frustration with the way Syria is being handled. If I have to explain it, I have failed.
You and three traveling kings stand upon a ridge overlooking Damascus. Twilight shields itself behind the horizon. Nothing is heard in the distance but cries, whips cracking and the occasional bellow when fire and embers spit into the sky. You’ve only just arrived yet already know the city is being torn asunder. Every passerby has warned you of such.
They say a barbarian has been terrorizing them. They say their sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, friends and family fall under his will; by the sword, to starvation, sometimes tortured, often times executed without charge. They even say he has cursed them to die afflicted by the devil’s spirits.
You know of this barbarian; you know that he is a demon.
The strongest king with whom you stand, hawkish and hardened by conflict, corrupted by its plunders and driven by an overwhelming sense of superiority, clenches and declares that something must be done. The most cautious king disagrees and is not eager to spend his men or gold for the cause. The other king remains silent, nostrils pinched against the wafting rot of flesh, but otherwise only scrutinizing.
The strongest king continues to demand intervention. The cautious king insists on leaving the people to slay the barbarian themselves. The other king begins to ridicule the strongest for his arrogance while implicitly siding with the cautious.
You recall moments of conflict in the past: of the corpses you’ve seen, many of them by the strongest king’s hand; of the times the cautious king diverted you from fortuitous allies, though you had thought not to; and of times when the other king just stood silent, watching.
Your fates have entwined since the journey began. By your combined might, economy, wit and collaboration the ivy of fate has entangled others as well. It appears you’ve come to another sprig, connected to the past albeit carried by its own branch. You suggest taking a vote.
Meanwhile, another bellow casts cinders across the city, spreading the flame so that it begins to devour everything in sight. Along its feeding breeze, you catch a searing essence that makes your eyes weep.
The other king preemptively decides against direct involvement, exercising his consistent apathy. The cautious king wants to discuss until morning before casting his final lot, and while the strongest king has agreed to postpone the vote, it is clear he intends to act. The cautious king questions the strongest’s motivations, the strongest simply ignores him and the other king offers nothing but pithy interjections. The furious debate distracts so that all lose sight of the city despite the cries, fiery glow and emanating heat.
Most of Damascus is ash when dawn breaks. The strongest king finally agrees that his armies will come only to help extinguish the fire. The cautious king continues to demand that they let it be, but knows he cannot and will not stop the strongest. The other king alternatingly shakes scorpions from his boots, but does not notice that each time he puts one down, another flees into it.
The armies arrive quickly, but are too late. They dig trenches to halt the remaining blaze, but nearly everything inside the city is already lost. Only a few structures stand; even those suffer ransack. By the following day, you and the traveling kings are off to their next destination. Only smoldering ash remains where was once Damascus.
When you reach the next city, you find that a similar fate has befallen it. Yet another argument arises between the kings, each incessantly referencing the lessons of the past. But to you, it seems clear that they are doomed to repeat it.