Instantly falling behind Trump as he ejaculates with Cruise missiles ensures that he keeps doing so: There is no more reliable factor to reflexively unite people behind any leader than war, and Trump now sees how true that is. The same political leaders who have spent the months since his election denouncing him as a mentally unstable inept Fascist and an unprecedented threat to democracy are now lauding him uncritically for his missile attack on Syrian government targets. Even if you are someone who on principle wanted the US to attack Assad, shouldn’t your view that Trump is a fool and a monster prevent endorsement of this war with this Commander-in-Chief?
And, as always in war, the American media is immediately converted into state media. In the first 24 hours after, the five leading US newspapers had eighteen op-ed pieces in praise of, and zero in opposition to, the attack.
The unexamined questionable claim that this attack serves humanitarian goals exerts such a powerful appeal that it overrides all rational considerations. The Trump blockade on refugees fleeing the horrors of the civil war gives the lie to any sentiment for the victims of the gas attacks, though, doesn’t it? The US does not blow things up for altruistic reasons, it does so when it believes there will be some self-serving benefit, but we always want to believe that our bombs and missiles will be filled with love, help, and freedom. In the last two months, Trump has ordered a commando raid in Yemen that has massacred children and dozens of innocent people, bombed Mosul and killed scores of civilians, and bombed a mosque near Aleppo that killed dozens.
While Trump said it was in the “vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons”, there is no conceivable self-defense pretext for Trump’s action. The greatest threat it solves is that to Trump’s infantile ego, instantly giving him the media respect he craves with his most popular action since he took office, changing the indubitable perception of disarray in his administration as his popularity rating continues its steady downward crawl. Trump himself had accused Obama in 2012 of preparing to start a new war in response to falling poll numbers. Instantly falling behind Trump as he ejaculates with Cruise missiles ensures that he keeps doing so. As NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman observed, “This action is a feel-good kind of thing for Trump. Blow away aircraft; you don’t kill any Russians, and that’s it. It’s good optics.”
Those who voice opposition to the bombing campaign are met with two predictable and pervasive toxic conceits driving American decision-making: that we must “Do Something” and “Look Strong,” predicated on the false and dangerous premise that the US military can and should solve every world evil. Democratic policy-makers are in thrall to these same principles. Critics have spent months claiming Trump is a traitorous puppet of Putin’s unwilling to defend US interests and that anyone who refuses to confront the Russians or their proxies like Assad is a sympathizer of or a servant to foreign enemies. Thus, they have no ability or desire to oppose Trump’s wars. Even those Democrats who have criticized the bombing campaign have done so on process issues rather than on the merits – with very few exceptions such as Rep. Ted Lieu and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.
And even the procedural objections to this action have been cowardly and inept. Is no one concerned that he was able to order this attack without any democratic debate, not to mention Congressional approval? The action was without even the pretext of anti-terrorist legal justification Obama drew upon through the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force when he started bombing ISIS in Syria.
Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard professor and former George W. Bush lawyer, said, “I can imagine the smile on Trump administration officials’ faces when they figured out that they would both enforce a red line that Obama wouldn’t and rely on Obama administration legal thinking to provide cover for doing so.”
The Congressional abdication of war-making authority to an all-powerful imperial presidency has been jointly built by both parties and handed to Trump gift-wrapped.
The autocratic presidency only works in the hands of a clever and moral man. One of Obama’s best decisions, and one of which he said he was very proud, was his resistance to bipartisan demands that he use military force against Assad. In contrast, we knew where Trump’s morality stood long before he was elected, with his explicit vows to commit war crimes — torturing detainees and purposely murdering the families of terrorists.
US war fever waits for nothing. Wanting conclusive evidence before we drop bombs is roundly condemned as support for evil. The chemical weapons claim rapidly became the gospel truth even though questioned in multiple world capitals. How do you know whether there really was a sarin gas attack and, if there was, that the Assad government was responsible? Susan Rice just two months ago boasted to NPR: “We were able to get the Syrian government to voluntarily and verifiably give up its chemical weapons stockpile.” Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, for one, had urged an investigation to determine what had actually happened before any action was undertaken in response. No US allies could be enlisted to cooperate and give broader legitimacy to the action. Britain, for example, “said it would not participate if asked,” the Washington Post reported.
Trump made it clear that this was a limited action designed to punish and warn Assad for the use of chemical weapons rather than the start of a new war to remove him. But crossing a line with our aggression often quickly becomes impossible to contain. And I am skeptical that Congress would demand a role in deciding on any wider effort, or that they would prevail if they did. As Glenn Greenwald summarized it:
‘Ultimately, what is perhaps most depressing about all of this is how, yet again, we see the paucity of choice offered by American democracy. The leadership of both parties can barely contain themselves joining together to cheer the latest war. One candidate – the losing one – ran on a platform of launching this new war, while the other – the victor – repeatedly vowed to avoid it, only to launch it after being in office fewer than 100 days. The one constant of American political life is that the U.S. loves war. Martin Luther King’s 1967 denunciation of the U.S. as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today” is more accurate than ever.’