So, yesterday, I wrote about how I really didn't want to keep writing every day about the latest Big News outrage from the Trump administration, but he has so many almost each day that it was impossible not to. But after getting that out of my system, I determined that today would be non-political.
And then yesterday happened.
I mean, seriously, what do you do about an administration when the head of the House Intelligence Committee not only resigns, but does so because he's being investigated by the House Ethics Committee for possible collusion with the White House? And it turns out that that isn't the Big Story of the day.
Because the same day, Republicans in the Senate go to the farthest Constitutional extreme and change Senate rules to create the "nuclear option" (and what a day for that phrase...) to now only require a 51-vote majority to approve a nominee to the Supreme Court. And it turns out that that isn't the Big Story of the day!!
And so it came to pass that just 76 days into his disastrous, incompetent term in office, Donald Trump has bombed Syria.
I'm not going to analyze whether it was right or wrong. I understand the reasons for doing it -- and for not doing it. And I understand the professional analysis of it. As briefly as possible, my reaction is that clearly something had to be done against the Assad regime for what appears to be another chemical attack against its citizens, but I'm not convinced that this action was the right option and timing. We might determine it was -- but when bombing such a volatile situation, I think you want substantively more certainty than "might."
What I will do is point out a range of immediate thoughts I had when hearing the news. Including one admittedly cynical one, which (cynical as it is) doesn't necessarily make it wrong.
To start with, though, I am struck by the stunning lack of consistency in the Trump administration words about Syria. (I was going to say "policy about" but there doesn't appear to be one.) For the past several years, Trump has been speaking out and tweeting vociferously that the United States should NOT attack Syria, not, not, not not attack it. Not attack it at all. Don't attack Syria. And only last Thursday, Secretary of State Tillerson said it was for Syrians to determine their government, not the U.S. And now, just six days after Tillerson and years of "Don't attack Syria," here is Trump attacking Syria. The question here isn't "Was it the right or wrong thing to do?" but rather -- what on earth is our policy?? If a country is going to attack another, it seems to me you'd darn well better have a rock-solid foundation of what in the world you're doing.
And with that in mind, the question that needs to be asked -- and which few analysts had any idea of the answer -- is, What's the end game? Is there a Plan B? Where is this heading? What if Russia acts? Or Syria? Or Iran, which has troops there? As does Hezbollah. What if any of those groups have their own troops killed and escalate the action? Are we prepared to send more soldiers in? Do more bombing? And to what end? "Shock and Awe" looked so inspiring to Americans on that one Baghdad night -- yet we still have forces in Iraq 14 years later.
Indeed, it's critical to note a significant difference between when Barack Obama was president and Syria had its earlier chemical attack and now -- today, unlike before, there are Russian troops on the ground in Syria, as well as and U.S. troops. The conditions are deeply different. And as noted, there are Iranian and Hezbollah troops in the country, as well. Any of which could now attack the Americans there, or do some other form of retaliation and ratchet the situation up.
Moreover, the impetuous immediacy of this attack was done before it has yet been determined by world officials that there was, in fact, a chemical attack by Syria on its citizens. Now, it certainly seems likely that there was, but "certainly seems likely" is not even close to the same as having the concrete evidence on your side. Especially when there's no reason for such an instantaneous response. And yes, I know that the Trump administration says the evidence is clear. But this is the same administration that says there were 3 million illegal votes cast, says that 1.5 million people were at their inaugural, says there was a terrorist attack in Bowling Green, says that Barack Obama wiretapped Trump, says there are "alternative facts," and on and on and on, and gets its information from InfoWars and Breitbart. I gave up believing what the Trump administration says just because they say it LONG ago. I wait for actual, meaningful confirmation. And then wait for that to be confirmed.
Additionally, one of the words from the Trump administration was that this bombing was done because of its deep, heartbreaking care for the Syrian people. But then, if the administration actually cared so much about the Syrian people, one would think they wouldn't be (and remain, even after this bombing) so hate-filled and contradictory toward Syrian refugees, who now number five million.
Importantly, too, is the question of whether this action of bombing another country without being attacked or under any direct threat of attack -- no matter how tragic and horrific the underlying reasons towards the Syrian people -- was legal under both U.S. and world law. And related to that is the propriety of the action without any Congressional involvement. We know from the past that when President Obama asked Congress to authorize an attack against Syria after he'd drawn his "red line" and Syria crossed it with a chemical attack...the Republican Congress refused to do so, with the death toll far greater than today. Then again, with a Republican now in the White House, I suspect that the hypocritical Republican Congress will be more supportive. But "will be" is the operative term, since this attack was made without them involved in any way.
And further, was this the first option considered? Were others? Was there an attempt to put together a coalition of nations -- something that might have been wise, yet likely would have been a challenge for this administration, given other countries' likely reticence of wanting to unite behind the divisive America-First Trump about anything. However, one of the big, repeated selling points that Trump kept making about himself throughout the election was how all the nice things he said about Vladimir Putin was really such a wonderful thing because, hey, wouldn't it be better if we actually got along with Russia?!! So, given Russia's ties to supporting Assad why didn't Trump use that great asset of his that he so heavily promoted and work out a resolution with Putin before instead, first bombing Syria?
In the end, that brings me to my admittedly cynical reaction. I know all the reasons the Trump administration has given why why they bombed Syria on Thursday. And as I said, I simply don't take them at their word about it, let alone anything. And I know all the reasons experts were giving for why it perhaps was done. But there was one significant reason why the bombing took place that occurred to me almost immediately upon hearing the news and which I didn't hear a single analyst say. And it's very cynical, I acknowledge that. But the reason is --
Bombing Syria took the House and Senate Russia investigations off the front page.
I know that there weren't any experts offering this as a reason, but I know too that in a war-like situation there's likely a sensibility among people in those commentary positions to not want to come across as someone who will instantly politicize bombing and the potential of war. But that doesn't mean it wasn't at least a serious consideration to this administration. I'm not saying That's Why It Was Done. (I'm not saying it wasn't why, either.) But I am saying that when analyzing all their options, knowing that this would have benefits to the White House , and knowing how "What benefits me" is what drives Trump not only most, but close to solely, that may well have been a consideration (and even a major consideration) which could have tipped the scales. Not a consideration by the military advisers, but a consideration by the administration's political voices who have his ear. And make no mistake, Steve Bannon still has Trump's ear, as do others from that side. Additionally, it gives desperate Republicans an issue to finally rally around their leader. (Yet it is an action they should do with great hesitancy and risk of support, since none of the other reasons his popularity is at 35% have changed, nor have investigations into administration collusion with Russia. But then, that's all the more reason for someone like Trump to add that consideration in his decision.)
Yes, I know that's a very cynical reaction. And I note I could be totally wrong. But I could be absolutely spot-on, as well. And given this administration and Trump's history for many decades, they have earned zero benefit of the doubt.
And yet if anyone nonetheless thinks I'm just far too cynical about this -- or too partisan -- or too biased -- I remind you of Trump's well-known tendency for projecting, making statements about others that are clear, blatant reflections of himself, and point you to a tweet he himself sent in 2012.
Just a bunch of initial reactions...
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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