Posts Tagged ‘ Trump ’

The Empire Strikes Back

The partisan rhetoric about Syria speaks as much as anything to the deep ideological and illogical divide in American politics. President Trump and most Republican members of Congress have blasted President Obama’s handling of Syria as “weakness” and repeatedly asserting vaguely that the President was somehow to blame for the whole mess of the Syrian war and its undesirable outcome on the world stage.

To be sure, Obama–typically measured and striving for prudence–did not want to get involved in Syria. It was a classic debacle in the making. Even our limited support for anti-Assad forces has come back to haunt us as material support meant to weaken the repressive Syrian regime has ended up in the hands of ISIS, the most repellant ideological blight of the twenty-first century. But the coverage in the media towing the Trump-Republican line that the current president is “breaking” with the last belies the real, muddled history of Obama’s almost-intervention in Syria.

Let us not forget that when chemical weapons were last used in this civil war, breaking Obama’s “red line,” the president did call for a vote authorizing military action in Syria, one that never came. Instead, Russia brokered a deal to stave off American intervention in Syria, saving us from direct involvement in this quagmire and preventing us from the unenviable position of weakening the Assad regime and, as a consequence, strengthening ISIS.

Though his political opponents have spun this moment as one demonstrating Obama’s weakness, in actuality it is a testament to American strength and shows how the threat, if not promise, of American military action changed the behavior of other state actors to abide by international law.

No, it was far from an ideal outcome, but in Syria, there are no ideals.

Now, in 2017, the landscape in Syria has changed considerably. ISIS is wrecked and, hopefully, doomed. But on the other hand, the Assad regime has pulled itself back from the brink and in the past weeks, most everyone has acknowledged that that regime would remain in power whenever this horrible war was finally resolved–whether through peace talks or exhaustion.

Which is why it is so galling that Assad would authorize a chemical weapon attack now. Clearly a completely cynical demonstration of naked aggression against any domestic forces who would oppose him, it is difficult to conceive of Assad’s reasoning. The war is all but won. Why now? Part of that answer must surely be that Assad and his enabler-in-chief Putin must have believed that Trump would indeed “break” with Obama and not deliver on the previous threat of American military action.

Trump, after all, has said that Assad’s ouster is no longer in the cards and has praised Putin’s “strength,” while urging for less American engagement when our interests weren’t directly served, promising to put “America First,” in a sickening echo of the American isolationists and Nazi sympathizers who argued for keeping us out of WWII. So it seems likely that it is their perception of Trump’s weakness, not Obama’s that led to the chemical weapon attack, assuming an American president who would buy their obvious lies about the nerve agent being released by the rebels or at the very least, triggered accidentally by an attack on rebel-held positions.

Assad and Putin may also have done the math and calculated that America has nothing to gain from striking Syria now. There is little chance of dislodging Assad as a key regional ally for Putin and Iran. From a real politik stand point, there is nothing to argue in favor of American involvement now. Assad and Putin played nice through Obama’s tenure, avoiding American wrath, so they might have guessed the coast was clear for Assad to send a harsh message to his enemies without having to worry about the short-term fallout in the international community. Trump, after all, had absolutely nothing to gain by attacking now.

And that’s why I think it may have been the best thing for us to do.

Intellectually, I still lean toward Obama’s reticence, and away from involving ourselves any further in a messy–very messy–civil war. But if Obama was still in office and this attack had happened, this is clearly what he would have done. By the accounts now coming out, it appears that Trump’s team consulted with our allies and even warned the Russians, balancing out the concerns about this being merely “lashing out” by an irrational and unpredictable president out of his depth.

There are plenty of critiques to be leveled at President Trump at this hour–many point out that his sudden sympathy for the Syrian people should also lead him to reverse his policies on refugees and still others suggest a wag-the-dog distraction from Russiagate. Only history, as it unfolds in the next few days and over the course of the next several years, will be able to judge whether this action turns out to be bold or simply brash, but in this difficult hour, we may owe this wildly ineffectual president the benefit of the doubt and accept that maybe, just maybe, in response to a horrible human atrocity, the President of the United States made the difficult decision to seek justice for the innocent victims of a war crime.

Has the World Gone Crazy?

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See, I take a hiatus from warning the world about its ills and you see what happens? You see?

I took a very deliberate break from writing about the state of things out there in the real world because I didn’t want to be yet another voice in the endless chorus of complaints that is the echo chamber of the politiweb.

And now, my negligence has brought us to the brink of a disaster of unimaginable scope: the Trumpocalypse. (Okay, so I may not be solely responsible.)

Now, I don’t want to give in to the temptation to perpetuate the run-away polarization in our political discourse, but I do think we need to all be clear on two things:

  1. Donald Trump is demonstrably a human being with many detestable traits. He has sexually appraised his daughters, one while still an infant. He has been misogynistic when dealing with women who question him. He demonstrates a woefully inadequate understanding of the role of government in the economy. He is a shameless self-promoter with no humility. He has a laughably frail ego and probably clinically qualifies as a chronic narcissist. Politically, his vision of the presidency has all the hallmarks of pure demagoguery. Let’s not forget his flagrant and casual racism. Oh, and he’s incurably dishonest to boot. This man, if elected president would be a national embarrassment.
  2. This is not the end of the world.

After all, the economy has rebounded. ISIS is on the ropes. The world has signed a historic global warming accord. Things aren’t as bad as they seem. We do have real problems–like inequality and corruption–that it sure would be nice to have a real leader to start to deal with. Now, for me, Sanders would have been my pick. He’s been on the right side of history on issue after issue after issue for decades, whereas Clinton has always felt free to let her views evolve based on the marketplace of ideas to be on whatever seemed to be the “right” side to get elected; and Trump, well Trump has been on the wrong side of bankruptcies and failed online steak distribution schemes.

I know, I know, I know. I see the same memes and Facebook posts equating the choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to choosing between Ramsey Bolton and Joffrey Borrathean on Game of Thrones (They both really, really suck for the uninitiated). I, too, see that the right’s irrational hatred of Clinton is fueling a false dichotomy where a seasoned statesman and politician with decades of experience (and never-proven accusations) is somehow as bad as the court jester described above. (Hell, that’s an argument not even the Koch brothers can stomach.)

Yes, it does terrify me that Trump might continue his improbable rise from punchline to political relevance and somehow defeat Clinton in the general election. (It’s not too late, you know; the Democrats could just nominate Sanders, who polls much, much better than the often besmirched Clinton.)

But the Republic will survive this.

Trump could do a lot of damage, it’s true. Mostly, though, I think that damage would be to our national reputation. But other countries have elected embarrassing leaders as well, and thankfully our system is insulated against the sort of whole sale destruction an unbridled demagogue can do (for an object lesson in that phenomenon, look to Venezuela).

We’ve had rogue presidents before. One such jack-ass is only now being scrubbed from our $20 bill. We’ve given in to paranoia and fear before. We’ve turned from our best natures and betrayed the vision of what America can be.

We have failed to be the nation we want to be more often than we have succeeded.

And yet, the experiment carries on. Ever forward. Ever onward.

Our obligation, of course, is to fight, and fight, and fight some more.

We have to speak out against distractions about who uses which bathroom and remind people that the real problems with our country (which remains the world’s sole super-power and, barring gross mismanagement, will likely continue in that position) are the political corruption of wealth and ever-expanding inequality.

Bernie Sanders’s victory this week is reassurance on that front. Though it doesn’t look like he will steal the nomination away from Hillary and the plutocrats who back her over him, he has nevertheless fought his way to reassurances that the issues he’s campaigned on will be represented prominently in the DNC’s platform.

I’ve said all along that Sanders would make Clinton move to the left. If she is defeated in November, it won’t be because of her politics, but her reputation. And should that come to pass, it’s a safe bet that the Democrats will be well positioned to sweep back into power after four years of Trump’s idiocy.

The demographics speak for themselves. The GOP is imploding. Their base is old and white (according to polls, Trump’s biggest edge is his thirty point advantage over Clinton with with white males) and the future of America is not. The Democrats will be in power, if not in November, then soon.

When they are, we’ll all be glad that Sanders has reframed their agenda to face the real issues so that the republic can soldier on, seeking ever after the better angels of our natures, ever after a more perfect union.