The scenes of human carnage should sicken us all, regardless of whether they are in Syria, Rwanda, Vietnam or Chicago. Man’s inhumanity to man is not acceptable under any condition and it is our collective responsibility to exhaust any and all remedies to alleviate human suffering. No one with a conscience, a soul, or even the hint of compassion and empathy is not reviled by the atrocity that occurred at the hands of the murderous Syrian dictator either this time or the last time or the times before that he unleashed chemical weapons upon his people.
I am more than willing to give Donald Trump the benefit of the doubt that he did indeed have an epiphany over the past 24 hours and decided to directly reject the heretofore enunciated policy of blind ignorance that his administration has touted towards policy issues in general over the past 76 days. One explanation is that he is a creature of television and learning about atrocities and injustice via the boob tube had a profound effect upon his thinking, and I use that term advisedly. The leader of the free world is an imbecile. He is simple-minded, shallow, devoid of any pretense of emotion unless it is transmitted through the medium of, I presume, the Fox News channel. This is not reality tv, sir, it is serious business and lives are in the balance.
That the position he occupies carries with it the destiny, hopes and dreams of so many humans around the world is an enormous responsibility that requires a seriousness of purpose that few are capable of handling let alone mastering. It requires a maturity and intellect and humility to study issues and trust in the accumulated knowledge of those who are much more attuned to the complexities of life’s circumstances than oneself. Coping with a teleprompter, reading a script, enduring intelligence briefings, actually preparing for delicate diplomatic encounters, and foregoing rants, ravings, tweets, and sophomoric bouts of gut instinct that are mistaken for common sense are a good start but never compensate for dedication and commitment to the public good. We simply cannot afford the trials and errors that are a byproduct of on the job training.
Which brings us to the decision to launch cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase. While on the face of it it might be somewhat justified as a knee jerk reaction aimed at flexing our considerable military might, intellectual strength just might be a more appropriate and effective strategy. Aside from the temporary feel good reflexivity that might make you sleep better at least for one night, what is the strategic end game to prevent further atrocities? Why should there be any more moral outrage for the death and destruction of families, women, and children from sarin gas than from bullets, mortars or barrel bombs? Is one murder more atrocious than the other?
Borrowing from past precedents and presidents, Democrats and Republicans, why not appeal to the world at large for a coordinated and consolidated effort to rid the world of such tragedy? Is this the first step in another journey that will have American men and women involved in seemingly intractable political, cultural, and religious conflicts that have incubated for thousands of years? Do we have even an inkling of the depth and extent of those divisions that divide that region of the world? Why will our involvement have any different results than we have seen in Iraq, or Afghanistan? This is a real life illustration of insanity, trying the same thing over and over hoping for a different result.
Many of us have been asking these questions since our opposition to the Vietnam War nearly a half century ago. Yet we seem no closer to answering in the positive than we were then and the results have been disastrous. I certainly had my disagreements with Barack Obama but I never questioned or doubted his sincerity and intellect. I never questioned that he and his staff had not thoroughly consulted and exhausted multiple options. My first reaction to the Trump administration’s confusing and contradictory policy towards Syria, and it barely qualifies as a policy but rather merely a set of constantly changing mental gymnastics, is that there must have been a good reason why Obama decided against involving us in that country when confronted with a similar situation just four years ago.
Was there a concerted intellectual and strategic decision that the long-term consequences outweighed any short-term benefits of involvement? Could it be that things actually might get worse than better? Does military superiority always qualify as the equalizer? Have we left ourselves open to a never-ending set of entanglements that will only continue the misery of millions of refugees for their lifetimes?
I am not saying that I know the answers to these questions. I am not saying that Obama was right for punting the ball to Congress when Assad crossed the red line in 2013, but I would bet the ranch that there was substantial intelligence employed in reaching that decision. Can the same be said in this instance, particularly given the rapidity with which the changing rationale for involvement/avoidance inverted this week alone?
The mercurial nature of Trump’s decision making may be seen as welcomed by a certain portion of the populace but I fear upon sober reflection it will be seen as unsteady, uncertain, and unsuccessful within the larger context. There is not one shred of evidence to suggest that there is a multi-stage progression of strategic initiatives which build upon this action. In fact it is being characterized by the administration as a one-shot deal. That, of course, is bound to change depending upon the political and military reactions put forth by either the Assad regime or their mercenary Russian accomplices.
Will any feel good palliatives in the short-term actually make a damn bit of difference to the people we are ostensibly trying to help? For once can we not at least make an attempt to get this one right? After all, millions of lives and no less than humanity itself depends upon it. The most important question of all is whether or not these actions will save children’s lives. And while the Trump administration maintains its rigid position with respect to refugees is this more of a symbolic gesture than an actual policy shift?