06 April 2017

'Something should happen'

Donald Trump is probably no more or less impressionable than the average American. Chemical weapons have been used in an attack on Syrian civilians, and while the Assad government and their Russian allies predictably blame insurgents, the President appears convinced that Assad himself is to blame. He declares that this "heinous" attack has changed his opinion of Assad. His talk of "beautiful little babies" being killed shows that, despite the perception of Trump as the stereotypical heartless businessman, he's prone to the same humanitarian impulses that many Americans film when shown atrocities on TV. Just a few days after his press secretary said that regime change in Syria was not an option, Trump himself is saying that "something should happen" to the Assad regime, presumably meaning punitive American military action. His change of tone comes after he received the president of Egypt and the king of Jordan, two of the U.S.'s staunchest Middle East allies, and just about simultaneously with the expulsion of the relative Russophile Stephen K. Bannon from the National Security Council. Some observers will take all these things as signs that the "deep state" has gotten to Trump, while others will say that the President has at last awakened to the realities of the world, including the wickedness of Russia and its friends. There's a lot of ground between these poles of perception, however, and Trump is probably somewhere out there. He'll be talking to the president of China shortly, so who knows what he'll be saying after that. The one sure thing is that American foreign policy remains in flux amid an apparently intensifying competition for influence inside the White House. One hopes that some anti-interventionists still have his ear, or that someone might warn him that humanitarian impulses, however admirable in the abstract, aren't necessarily consistent with the "America First" priorities that got him elected, especially when some half-assed attack on Assad's military is still likely to benefit the self-styled Islamic State more than anyone else. If little else, a Trump presidency promised a more serious attitude toward Syria, but the President's impulsiveness may soon turn that promise to ashes.

Update: Something did happen. The President ordered missile strikes against the airfield from which the Syrians supposedly launched the gas attack, claiming that it was in the "vital national security interest" of the U.S. to deter the use of chemical weapons. He again mentioned the deaths of "beautiful babies" as if these justified an act of war -- coincidentally on the centennial of the U.S. entry into World War I. I saw the news break live while I was watching Tucker Carlson on Fox News demolish every argument of his neocon guest for punitive action or regime change. The guest claimed that removing Assad from power would weaken the Islamic State, since it was his contention that Assad's alleged persecution or Sunnis, as in Iraq, fueled the rise of the Sunni army. I have to say I was unaware of any great persecution of Sunnis in Syria, but it looks like they feel persecuted whenever they're the majority of the population but don't rule. As yet I've seen no official reaction from the Russian government, which reportedly was notified in advance of the strike.

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