Well, you can’t say you weren’t warned.
Yes, Donald Trump, with cratering poll numbers, has seen an opportunity to become the great big American hero he so desperately wants to be: he can start a war. There is little doubt that Trump wants to become a war president, wants to board an air force carrier while giving that ridiculous smile of his, saying how he used America’s military and he succeeded big league. And, as a whole, America will allow its president to do this. Don’t believe me? Go turn on the news. MSNBC is bringing on Democrats like Adam Schiff and supposed human rights activist Nicholas Kristoff to say that while they have worries about the way Trump is taking action, an attack on Syria is the appropriate response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons. Left out of these discussions is that questions about who used the chemical weapons still linger.
The bombing of Syria is a bipartisan event. Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have been salivating at the thought of attacking Syria for years. Neither of them has met a country they did not want to bomb. If either of them bothered to look at the science of climate change their answer would be to advocate for war against Greenland. Sadly, the opposition part is not offering up much of an alternative. During the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton advocated for the irresponsible policy of starting a no-fly zone over Syria. Then, on the day Trump would end up bombing Syria, Clinton endorsed the idea of blowing up Syrian airports due to Assad’s actions. How this will stop Assad from carrying out further atrocities is unclear. Once the bombing commenced, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer released a statement endorsing the attacks. Senators on the left, like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, either released fairly tepid statements or said nothing at all.
This bipartisan consensus for meaningless military action goes back decades. The reason why Trump can get away with unleashing missiles without Congress’ approval is because Barack Obama did the same. During Obama’s tenure as president, Democrats waved away concerns about the way Obama handled drone usage and intervention in the Middle East. He knows what he’s doing, we were told. It’s better than using ground troops, Democrats said. Well, now that the personification of a drunken frat boy’s id is president, it has become clear that Obama’s actions opened a door for even more horrific United States imperialist tactics, many of which can be done solely by the executive branch. The fact that both political parties have abused the executive branch leaves the United States with no political entity that is against imperialism, a stunning, tragic, and dangerous reality for both the United States and the world. The Republicans range from neoconservative to genocidal; the Democrats range from neoconservative to uninterested.
Even now, with hatred towards Trump at an all-time high among centrists and Democrats, prominent pundits and politicians are saying Trump made the right call. How can Schumer or Schiff claim that Trump is evil incarnate and also give him a pat on the back when it comes to bombing Syria? In what world does that make sense? Why would you want to give the Donald the idea that he should be using military action? Nothing in his history says he will use it in a responsible way. This means the Democrats and pundits who are endorsing Trumps actions are lying when they claim he’s an unstable lunatic or they are so blinded by the belief in America’s superiority that they do not understand what they are allowing to unfold.
The media has played its part, too. For all the talk that the media is left-wing, the news has a long history of justifying the United States’ violence in the Middle East. During the build up to the Iraq War, network and cable news had an overwhelming number of pro-war pundits speak out, while giving the anti-war platform little to no voice. In general, the media treated those who questioned the Iraq War like they were Colonel Kurtz, naïve people who were out of touch with the world. Fair has a lengthy chronology that describes how the media, both print and television, botched the Iraq War.
If you were expecting better from the media today, you will only be letdown. Cable news will trot out every elderly general who wants to see one last war before they shuffle off this mortal coil. They will repeat talking points about “proportional responses” and “precision strikes.” Much will be said about how the United States’ military action is done out of humanitarian concern, yet there will be little discussion on how Yemen is facing a similar crisis because Saudi Arabia, using United States weapons and acting with the United States’ approval, reigns hell down on innocent men, women, and children. No, not a single word will be said about the war crimes committed by the United States in that country because it is an inconvenient narrative, one that will not prep American for war, for yet another exercise that will keep the military industrial complex rolling right along. No one on the news will speak up for the 7 million in Yemen who are at risk of starving thanks to Saudi Arabia’s bombings, bombings that the United States could restrict if it so desired. It could, after all, simply stop supplying Saudi Arabia with the arms to slaughter the people of Yemen.
But that won’t be talked about, which is why you should not, not even for a second, believe that the United States’ attack on Syria has anything to do with humanitarian reasons. Its purpose is to remind the world that the United States still has vast military power, to remind the Middle East that the United States is not backing out of the business of regime change, to keep other countries scared, to keep money flowing to defense contractors, and to help Donald Trump feel like he’s a Big Boy. You can tell this is not a humanitarian mission because the idea that destroying airports will somehow stop Assad from unleashing chemical weapons makes not the slightest bit of sense.
The American citizens share some of the blame for this debacle, too. After all, they have rewarded leaders who have destabilized the Middle East time and again. When George W. Bush ran for reelection after invading Iraq using bullshit claims, Americans shrugged and said, “Fuck it, let’s give him four more years and see what happens.” When it came time to nominate a candidate after more than a decade of the useless War on Terror, the Democratic donors put their monetary weight behind a candidate who did not feel like Obama was hawkish enough. Even the left’s candidate, Bernie Sanders, was never able to articulate a clear anti-imperialist argument. And then, when November 2016 arrived, Americans voted for a candidate who had the emotional maturity of not just a three year old, but a three year old who had an unhealthy fascination with nuclear weapons.
There is no simple solution to the Syrian crisis. Assad is a despicable person who should be rotting in a prison cell after receiving a lifetime sentence for crimes against humanity. However, it should be clear by now that unilateral American military action will not make the situation in Syria better; Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Vietnam, and Korea (I could go on) have taught us that. American military action will, in all likelihood, make the situation much worse through collateral damage, either by the bombs themselves or the bombs setting off chemical weapons on the ground. Then factor in who could benefit should an American bomb obliterate Assad. Both ISIS and Al Qaeda operate in Syria in the hopes of taking advantage of a vacuum that will form if Assad falls from power. To prevent this, America would have to install a government itself. Take a look at Iraq and the rise of ISIS to see how that panned out. There is no military solution that will work, no regime change that will bring sudden stability to Syria.
There is an action the United States could take if it wants to help the Syrian citizens. The United States could open its doors to refugees and it could tell the Syrians that it will welcome those who want to come. Trump has made clear that he won’t do this and that racist promise was one of the factors that landed him the presidency. The Democrats have offered a few words about how refugees should be brought in, but it has been a half measure, at best. There is no serious argument in the current American discourse about allowing refugees in even though it was the United States’ actions in the 2000s that helped lead to the crisis in the first place. Why?
Because America is not a country interested in peaceful solutions. Those who want peace are viewed as cowards, as people with their heads in the clouds, as people who simply don’t understand reality. War has long been the business of the United States. Leaders note that it tends to unify the population, at least for a time, and that it keeps defense companies productive. When more than half of the United States’ budget is spent on the military, well, it has to do something with all that hardware, doesn’t it? You can only blow up Bikini Island so many times.
A truly humanitarian solution has not been found because it was never on the table. Military options aren’t just the first option for the United States; they are the only option. So far, the American people have yet to pushback enough against their government to stop this. The people either do not care or still buy into the idea of America’s Manifest Destiny. There remains little hope that Trump’s current excursion will change that reality. More bombs will drop, more chaos will unfold, and the cycle will continue. Calls for changing tactics will be ignored. It’s the American way.