Signifying Nothing

When did blowing shit up become ‘Presidential’? Seriously. Yes, I know this is America and blowing shit up comes right after ‘apple pie’ on the list of what it means to be an American. But is that really the defining act of a President? Look, I’m an avid reader of military history, so I understand that force is required in some situations. I also served in the Air Force for over 8 years, flying as a Boom Operator on KC-135 tanker aircraft during ‘Desert Storm’ and many other operational missions. I remember the adolescent thrill of rendezvousing with a flight of A-10 ground attack aircraft, dripping with ordinance. Then, about an hour later, we’d rendezvous with the same flight, post strike, and I’d grin at all the empty hard points, knowing that each one meant a tank or bunker that was now a smoking hole. So, I’m not immune to that primal surge of adrenaline. But I still can’t fathom the response of so many pundits and news reporters after Trump launched a cruise missile attack on a Syrian air base last week.

“I think Donald Trump became President of the United States.” — Fareed Zakaria

“We see these beautiful pictures at night from the decks of these two U.S. Navy vessels in the eastern Mediterranean,” Williams said. “I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen: ‘I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.’” — Brian Williams

Trump’s Strike “Was An Emotional Act By A Man Suddenly Aware That The World’s Problems Were Now His.” — NY Times

“The Trump Administration Can Truly Be Said To Have Started Only Now.” — The Weekly Standard’s Elliott Abrams

These were just a few of the comments, some from those who have been very critical of Trump, previously. It’s as if they are so desperate for Trump to finally, FINALLY act like he was President that they are jumping at anything they can get. Trump did not take some principled stand! Quite the opposite, actually. He looked at a Syrian civil war, that has raged for 7 bloody years, involving at least four distinct internal factions, and now, direct Russian involvement and thought, “you know what would improve this situation . . . cruise missiles!”

I’m as disturbed by Assad’s use of chemical weapons as anyone, but it’s odd that when Assad did the same thing three and a half years ago, Trump stood with GOP lawmakers in opposing President Obama’s request for a military strike. So what changed? Even more Syrian civilians died in the 2013 strike and there were horrible images of that attack too. Was it that he was finally in the ‘big’ chair and things looked different? I seriously doubt that was it. No other issue has persuaded him to act like a responsible President, so I doubt he had a ‘come to Jesus’ moment about this. I think it’s more likely that, considering the long string of controversy, lawsuits, investigations, halted Executive Orders and health care legislation his own party couldn’t come together on, the answer is more likely that he saw an opportunity to get military loving America high on high explosives.

What ticks me off about the roar of approval over the missile strike is that it accomplished nothing except, apparently mesmerizing Brian Williams! No, I’m sorry, that’s wrong. We did damage some buildings on the air base, probably took out some fuel and weapons storage and destroyed a few planes. Oh yes, and prompted Russia to move more of its own cruise missile armed warships into the area and pledge to strengthen Syria’s air defenses. It’s also worth noting that the air base was operating combat aircraft again within 24hrs. So explain to me how this taught Assad a lesson?

Look, there are times when a military strike can send a serious message, and if Assad stood alone, this might have made some tiny bit of sense. But he doesn’t stand alone and this single strike on an air base cost Assad very little. What it did do was ratchet up tension between the US and Russia, and encourage Putin to tuck Assad even tighter under his wing.

So now what do we do? No, I’m really curious what our illustrious Commander-in-Chief has planned if Assad uses chemical weapons again? Do we toss 50 Tomahawks at another air base? What about all the Russian military units in and around Syria? We are inching closer to a new proxy war with Russia, and if you may recall, that didn’t turn out that well the last time we tried it.

My problem is not that we attacked a Syrian air base. My problem is that it was pointless and there seems to be zero strategic planning beyond that. Syria is a horrible situation, but civil wars are bad enough when it’s just two sides. Here we have far more than that and I don’t see a military solution to it, and that was before Putin got directly involved. Now that Russia has their foot in the game, the risks have increased dramatically. I’m sure there are a few people out there, drunk on patriotism and decked out in American flag motifs that would say, “Screw ’em, we’ll take ’em all on!” But those people are ignorant of the realities of the world and have seen the ‘Expendables’ way too many times.

This isn’t ‘Desert Storm’ or ‘Iraqi Freedom’, where we could absolutely dominate an isolated country which had zero international support. This is a dirty, nasty cage match of a civil war, as a country eats itself alive, with two of the most powerful nations on earth glaring at each other, over the carnage. I would point out that WW I began with a simple political assassination in a corner of Eastern Europe and that spiraled into a war that consumed all of Europe and parts of Russia, Africa and the Middle East. As much as I want to see the Syrian war end, I just as fervently want to avoid seeing this expand beyond Syria. That means we must take care and be cautious about how we proceed. These isolated, punitive strikes may feel cathartic now, but it may not feel that way if the next one takes out a couple Russian MIGs or a group of military advisors. Things could become very severe, very fast and I have no confidence, whatsoever, that this administration is up to that sort of challenge.

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