False Bravado: A Progressive Response to the Syrian Airstrikes

By Bill Mefford

Both Democrats and Republicans alike largely went out of their way to congratulate donald trump for ordering 50 Tomahawk missiles to destroy a Syrian air base Thursday night. This is the same air base from which a deadly chemical attack by Syrian government forces against its own people killed over 80 people, including children. trump is not only breaking with President Obama’s policies towards a unilateral attack in response to deadly chemical attacks, trump is breaking with himself.

In 2013 he repeatedly warned against attacks on Syria in response to an even more deadly chemical attack. President Obama tried to get Congress to approve military force, but they refused to act. True to form, while Members of Congress are amazingly gifted at issuing statements following the actions of others, they refuse to take responsibility for any action that might be linked to them. For all of their patriotic-peace-through-strength statements they love to issue, or the boldness they show in the interviews they give to cable news, Members of Congress are mostly sniveling wimps who love to sound tough, but who are more than willing to look and sound tough from behind the heavily fortified bubble called Washington DC. The overwhelming majority of our elected representatives have never served in the military, nor do they have immediate family members who have served, but boy, do they love to send everyone else into harm’s way.

What I find as particularly dangerous in this entire episode is that Congress and the media and the public at-large will congratulate donald trump for essentially throwing a temper tantrum. The biggest difference between trump not wanting to attack in 2013 in response to an even more deadly chemical attack and suddenly wanting to take vengeance for the murder of Syrian noncombatants earlier this week is that he watched the impact of the attacks on the Syrian children on television. In a statement on Thursday trump said he saw the murder of babies and that the attack, for him, “crossed many lines.” Assad certainly is a murderous tyrant and should in no way be in power of a country he seems to despise, but donald trump, the unfortunate leader of the most powerful nation in history, basically made a tempestuous decision because something on TV made him upset. And people are congratulating him for throwing what amounts to be a temper tantrum. Do we really want to reward this kind of behavior; this kind of decision-making? I shudder when I think that this may embolden him to throw more temper tantrums.

So, what should be the response of progressives to the attack on Syria? So far, what I have seen is the typical liberal response – prayers and pleas for an end to violence that seem directed at no one in particular and will therefore go unheard and unheeded. I want to suggest a few things we should keep in mind as we respond to this individually and collectively as a movement.

First, we should point out that the response of donald trump and his mindless Republican congressional throng is merely false bravado. As I said before, for a bunch of mostly white, old, rich guys who love to sound tough and oh-so-patriotic, very, very few of them have ever served or have immediate family members who have served. They are the Rambo-elitists who wait for others to take action so that they can issue statements afterwards and take partial credit; they are the ones who love to criticize thoughtfulness, which they nastily call “weakness”; and they do all of this in the safety and security of a heavily fortified Washington DC. If they, or any of trump’s own supporters for that matter, are so eager to wage war against Assad or anyone else, then sign up, pick yourself up by your own Army bootstraps and get your ass on the next boat over to Syria to fight for real. Trust me, we won’t miss them and it would be nice, for once, for those who sound tough to actually do something about it.

Further, we need to remind all of the Rambo-elitists that real strength doesn’t seek vengeance for children murdered by a brutal dictator while at the same time we seek to ban those same children simply and solely because we don’t care for their religious beliefs. That is the essence of timidity. If you want to be tough, embrace those children and allow them into the United States. In fact, insist that we, the United States, the most powerful nation in history and the most affluent nation in history, can take in the most refugees because we are not afraid of refugee families. It is more than hypocritical to ban the people you are seeking vengeance for; it is utter weakness.

Secondly, though trump will absolutely not care in the least, I think it is important for us to remind folks that the air strike against Syria broke international law. That is nothing new for the United States of course, but the United Nations, of which we are a member, grants two reasons for nations to engage in warlike actions against another nation. One is to secure international peace – as in responding to international aggression like Germany did in World War II (think about when the UN Charter was created). And secondly, warlike actions are permitted when one country is responding to an attack by another. In other words, international law will now not be broken by Syria should they attack us, but we have broken international law in what we did Thursday night. For all of their insistence for others to rigidly follow the law, Republican leaders seem to break it in almost every foreign policy move they make.

Lastly, we need to stop our constant warning of potential war in Syria or the Middle East; we have long been at war in the Middle East (and many other places around the world). President Obama dramatically increased the use of drone strikes, which often are not precise and do result in casualties to civilians. But donald trump, in just under two months-time has increased the use of drones over 400%.[i] In every nation trump listed for his Muslim ban the US has been actively engaged in drone strike activity. Again, it is utterly feeble to create violence in countries and then refuse entry to people fleeing the violence you helped to create.  

What we need to do is remind people that if you do something for 16 years – like engage in this endless war on terrorism – and little has changed, then you really actually suck at it and should try something else. The questions we need to be asking (shouting) at our Rambo-elitist elected representatives, as well as our Rambo-elitist friends, is what does winning the war on terror look like? What are the measurable goals that we will know once we achieve victory? The truth is they have absolutely no idea what victory looks like because the goal is not to win the war on terror; the goal is to endlessly fight the war on terror. Two things tend to happen in wars: defense contractors get very wealthy and elected members of Congress get to drone on and on about patriotism and peace-through-strength while their public approval numbers get a bump. Both of these things make our Rambo-eltist members of Congress very happy. So, the war on terror goes on and on. We need to tell Congress we will only support a declaration of war if they sign up and fight on the front lines themselves. Otherwise, it is simply more evidence of the false bravado of elected leaders who love to sound tough, but who have no skin in the game.

[i] https://www.thenewamerican.com/usnews/foreign-policy/item/25604-drone-strikes-up-432-percent-under-donald-trump

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