In August 2013, or so we were told at the time, the Syrian government launched a chemical attack against one of its own towns, killing by various estimates between 300 and 1700 people. The Syrian government vehemently denied that it had done such a thing, and a UN investigation was ultimately inconclusive.
At the time, our Dear Leader, President Obama, felt the need to intervene and positively stop such attacks in the future. But there was not the political will to invade Syria, so instead he moaned about how someone could take this problem off his hands. The Russians were happy to oblige.
A week and a half ago, or so we were told at the time, the Syrian government launched a chemical attack against one of its own towns, killing under 100 people. The Syrian government vehemently denied it had done such a thing.
At the time, President Trump felt the need to send a message that such behavior would not be tolerated. He sent a bouquet of cruise missiles to destroy the airbase from which the attack was launched. The matter was over and done with within 72 hours. And the media started to regard Trump as an actual President, rather than a blithering idiot.
If the attack really took place as described in the media, then President Trump’s response was appropriate. We don’t need to invade Syria, but we do need to keep our word that some things are unacceptable.
I want to believe that. I really do. My life would be much calmer that way. My problem is that some things just don’t fit:
- Why would the Syrian government do such a thing? They had supposedly cooperated with the US and the Russians to rid themselves of chemical weapons. Using them now would throw all that away, and anger Russia, their new patron.
- What’s the point of a chemical attack that kills under 100 people, many of them children? It won’t accomplish any rational military objective, and will only make everyone mad.
The compelling alternative is that the attack earlier this month was a put-up job, staged to frame the Syrian government. There are others besides the Syrian government who would have far more to gain from an alleged Syrian chemical attack.
And if that’s the case, then either President Trump knows it’s a put-up job, or he doesn’t.
- If he knows that the attack is fake, then he has not only failed to ‘drain the swamp’ as promised, he has neatly ensconced himself as Head Alligator. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and surprisingly quickly.
- If he doesn’t, and he was misled by our intelligence agencies, then the conspiracy theorists are right: there really is an entrenched, unelected shadow government that has the real power, and the elected officials are just window dressing.
In either case, the bottom line is that this episode has demonstrated that Presidents don’t matter. If Hillary Clinton had won the election, I don’t see how things would have happened differently.
But beyond that, it’s been several years now, and I’m still perplexed by our official animus against Syrian President Bashar Assad. It isn’t just chemical weapons: we’ve tolerated various stripes of tyrants against their own people in the past, because they were our allies against a larger adversary. Saddam Hussein, a genuine evil dictator, was our bestest friend for years because he stood against the Russians. As the leader of a secular Arab state, Assad should be a natural ally. But he isn’t.
That, alas, is a question for another day.