Who could see images of dead children after a gas attack and do nothing?
Not even those who demand keeping those same kids away from our shores. Nearly with one voice, Congress extolled Trump’s flip of the back of his tiny hand in the general direction of Bashar Assad’s face, while liberal commentators on cable television rhapsodized that the missile strike conferred upon him the pallium of presidency. Because that’s what defines “presidential.” Not taking care of citizens in need, not protecting the environment or addressing the obvious threat of climate change; not supporting programs that help people find their way out of poverty, or producing a coherent health care plan.
Calling in from luxury golf resorts, what presidents do is let fly $90 million dollars’ worth of cruise missiles. It makes up for everything.
Unless it’s Barack Obama asking Congress for authorization. To him, they said “no.” (Washington Post: tinyurl.com/missile-flip) Had President Obama gone ahead anyway, according to then-citizen Trump, it’d have been to distract from lousy poll numbers. But that was when Trump was tweetvocating the opposite of what he just did (New York Times: tinyurl.com/policy-tweets), and when the Russia thing wasn’t a thing.
There are no good answers in the Middle East, any more than there was a secret Trumpic plan to defeat ISIS, so, assuming the facts are as he claims, it’s hard to fault his choice. In his position, though, I might not have fired off meaningless missiles, having first alerted Russia (before informing Congress or the State Department), who told Syria, who moved personnel and armaments out of the way. But it was definitely “something.” Assad resumed sorties from the airfield within hours, back to where the gassing occurred. If “something” was called for, was that it? To what end? Of which dog? And what’s next?
It sent a message, gushed the gushers: “We’re back! Don’t mess with us because there’s more where that came from!” Or was it, “If you do certain sorts of badness we’ll symbolic gesture the heck out of you”? Either way, its most undeniable accomplishment was changing the domestic conversation.
Is it coincidental that Assad’s attack came right after Trump signaled it’s no longer our concern who’s in charge of Syria? Trump blamed President Obama’s previous decision not to act. Maybe he’s right. Maybe Congress should have granted authority when asked. Maybe, like Trump, President Obama shouldn’t have bothered following the Constitution when committing an act of war. I don’t know. Really, I don’t.
But I do know some things. I know there’s no lasting U.S.-dominated military solution over there, with or without ground forces. I know if it’s possible to influence history in our favor it’s more likely to occur by providing aid to refugees than by creating more of them. I know the situation is so complicated that the adage, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” doesn’t apply and never has. More like, “My enemy is my enemy and so is my friend.” (Vox: tinyurl.com/enemy-friend)
Of course it’s hard to ignore images of dead children; they’re horrifying. Yet, for Trump et al., it remains easy to spurn living children who, fleeing the devastation, arrive on our doorstep. Spent on them, that $90 million might have done more good, for Syrians and America.
Like professing love for the unborn while cutting programs that help impoverished babies after birth, something doesn’t add up. Hundreds of thousands of innocent Syrians have died in their war. Why did only the gassing educe a Trump response? Why so showily military yet strangely sanitized, and why now? Optics, maybe. Deception, even? How can we know? When our president is a proven recidivist liar, every claim he makes, every step he takes becomes suspect.
Here we are, possibly uniquely gifted with life in the Universe, and the opportunity — had people more grace and less arrogance — to enjoy and share it. And yet, both by action and neglect, we’re not. Humans are ever more unworthy of their cosmic fortune.
As proof, in America, the only thing people from all sides can agree upon is that when Trump authorized a missile strike, it was “presidential.” That’s horrifying, too, and means as a nation, species and planet, we’re in worse trouble than I thought.
Email Sid Schwab at firstname.lastname@example.org.