If the opening volleys in the Trump administration’s Syria policy are any indication, we’re in for another four to eight years of escalating violence. American foreign policy, of course, always operates on continuing the aggressive imperialism of the preceding administration—but the current occupant appears ready to crank the volume up to 11.
That was apparent on Thursday night when the US military launched 59 missiles at an airfield from which a suspected chemical attack may have been launched last week. The action came out of nowhere, bewildering the nation and the world. Trump had said only a week earlier that he had no intention of forcing Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad out of office. Yet within minutes the U.S. media and political establishment fell into line behind the president.
Domestic resistance to American war-making is difficult. The American people are conditioned to support the military and, by proxy, the Commander-in-Chief and the government. That's in part because of the generally accepted custom that it's worse to talk about why American soldiers are sent to their death when it's for no discernible reason than it is to send them there in the first place.
That time tested principle is an American institution, dating back at least to the Vietnam War. When the US sends the military into another poorly thought out conflict halfway across the world, those who oppose those actions are screamed at and silenced for the crime of speaking the truth.
Of course, there's no reason to think that any potential war in Syria would result in anything other than inept chaos given what's already been done by the US in the country over the last decade. The US has poured millions and millions of dollars into training and arming the rebel forces against the Russian backed Assad since at least 2013. Those efforts have not had outstanding results.
This is how bad ideas get hatched. It's all part of the “Washington Rules” that Andrew Bacevich wrote about in his book of the same name. These rules, the “sacred trinity” of American power, Bacevich said, are “U.S. military power, the Pentagon's global footprint and an American penchant for intervention,” and they've led to a constant need for a foreign policy emergency.
Such a blinkered foreign policy gets ideological cover from the professional pundit and political class. The missile strike resulted in the immediate hardening of pro-war voices. No matter who's in office when the US goes to war, the president gets automatic support until such support becomes completely untenable both politically and commercially—this being Trump, that happened quickly.
By Friday evening, most of the nominally liberal opposition had turned against the strike. But in the immediate aftermath there was nothing but praise. Nominally liberal network MSNBC gave ideological cover to the bombing on Thursday night by hosting a never-ending parade of former military men and war supporters throughout the evening. CNN soberly discussed the missile strike with similar guests. Paste's reporter didn't check Fox out of concern for his mental health.
On social media, things were even worse. Shane Bauer, an investigative reporter at misnomered magazine Mother Jones, implied on Twitter that anyone opposed to the attack was a Nazi. And by Sunday, luminaries of the Democratic Party were calling for intervention and regime change from the militaristic (Kaine) to the more tempered (Sanders), while their surrogates in the media were openly calling for World War Three.
These conversations never take into account any of the lives that could be lost during such a conflict, whether the lives of the people on the ground or the U.S. soldiers that will do the fighting. And they can't—because if they did, the U.S. war machine would be tainted by the real consequences of intervention. That won't do for advocates of endless war like Bill Kristol, who sees Syria as a jumping off point to fulfilling a 38-year-old dream. It's not just the missile strike. Only 72 hours after the initial attack, one of the most disgraced barnacles on the Washington establishment was already planning out the next step in a protracted war.
It’s hard to know what’s coming next in Syria. This is in part due to the complicated internal nature of the civil war in the country, partly to do with the inconsistent and chaotic foreign policy of the Trump administration, and partly to do with the unknown actions that will be taken by others in the conflict—particularly Iran and Russia. But one thing’s for sure. As the U.S. extends its involvement in Syria and military personnel inevitably die on the battlefield, domestic criticism will mount against the operation. And then those who called for war and those who supported it will fight back viciously against anyone who points out the poor planning and pointlessness of the conflict.
You can follow Eoin Higgins on Twitter and find him at Patreon.