Morality In The Age Of Trump, Lies, Fake News and Hyperpartisanship: Syria Edition
Syrian president Bashar Al Assad was accused of being behind this Sarin gas attack against his own population:
President Trump ordered a retaliatory attack against the Syrian airbase from which the Sarin gas bombing was carried out. As part of protocol, the Trump administration used a special channel dedicated to communicating with Russian forces in Syria in order to avoid an accidental attack of Russian troops. 59 missiles were launched from a U.S. warship and some damage was done to the airbase, though it wasn’t destroyed and there are questions about how much damage was really done. Less than three days later, the Syrians announced the base is back to being fully operational. In parallel to all that, Trump administration officials, Secretary Tillerson and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley made identical statements that, in terms of diplomatic parlance, deviate from what one expects from people who engage in diplomacy:
On social media and in Congress, several camps have emerged. The establishments of both parties generally support the U.S. military action in retaliation for what can only be described as mass-murder of civilians. Outside of this support, however, there is a significant contingent that views the military action as illegitimate and questions the certainty that Bashar Al Assad is the culprit. Some blame ISIS, instead. These types of views are expressed both by elements on the far right and the left, for seemingly different reasons.
Then, there are those who are bitter for their own concerns, as seen in this 2015 tweet by Yousef Munayyer, which has been recirculated in the form of an undated screenshot, in Facebook groups that are opposed to Trump:
As a Palestinian I can tell you this much, if pictures of dead kids really did stir global conscience, Palestine would've been free long ago
— (((YousefMunayyer))) (@YousefMunayyer) September 3, 2015
The tweet, in response to the story behind this widely-circulated photo of a drowned Syrian toddler, in and of itself, speaks volumes about the tweeter’s personal ethics and tribal politics:
There are some who use their opposition to Israel and the Trump administration’s various associations with American Jews and Israel, to implicate Israel in Syria’s moral void while opposing coming to the defense of innocent civilians from chemical weapons attacks. I’ve even seen mention of the poisoning of the water in Flint used a veiled criticism of Trump’s military action. There are even some who deny that the sarin gas attack even took place.
On the left, Democratic member of Congress and former DNC vice chair, Tulsi Gabbard, has her own very peculiar views on Syria:
Gabbard has long criticized the official American view that the Syrian regime is not legitimate, and has questioned intelligence from the U.S. and allied nations that suggests Assad has committed war crimes and used banned chemical weapons. A chemical bombing Tuesday that the U.S. blames on Assad is what prompted Trump’s strike.”
Gabbard’s mysterious trip to Syria last winter wasn’t cleared with Democratic leadership and the source of funding became so controversial that Gabbard ended up repaying her sponsors, the Arab American Community Center for Economic and Social Services of Ohio, out of her own pocket.
Why Gabbard doubts Assad is behind the chemical attack is rather curious, as this won’t be Assad’s first time attacking his own people.
Ghouta chemical attack (Wikipedia)
“The Ghouta chemical attack occurred in Ghouta, Syria, during the Syrian Civil War in the early hours of 21 August 2013. Two opposition-controlled areas in the suburbs around Damascus, Syria were struck by rockets containing the chemical agent sarin. Estimates of the death toll range from at least 281 people to 1,729.The attack was the deadliest use of chemical weapons since the Iran–Iraq War.“
Syria began its descent into chaos quite some time ago. There are multiple players whose nefarious influence is at play, and it is doubtful that the Trump administration is willing to engage them in any kind of way, both out of lack of concern and due to conflicts of interest this nation has been subject to for decades. Merely identifying or even grooming opposition groups for an eventual take-over is inadequate. That is likely the reason why the Obama administration did very little in Syria. Donald Trump, at first, wanted Bashar Al Assad out of the picture.
Recently, the Trump administration announced it wouldn’t require Assad’s ouster. If Syria is to recover, it will require nothing less than its own Marshall Plan. Donald J. Trump, especially with former Exxon Mobil CEO, Rex Tillerson, as his Secretary of State, is not the president who will bring about a resolution of the Syrian problem. Neither Trump nor Tillerson is equipped or inclined to do the work needed in order to bring order back to a nation that has failed. Trump picked Tillerson for his views, associations, life experience, and who they serve: the oligarchy we now have in place.
In the polarized political environment we now live in, we have come to the point where what news one chooses to believe depends entirely on where one sits on the political spectrum. Political bent is what now motivates people in their reactions, rather than factual evidence and what the correct ethical and logical response ought to be. Nuanced views that account for multiple factors and multiple motivations are rejected in favor of either-or propositions.
But the world isn’t devoid of nuance. We can resist the Trump administration, exposing their corrupt motives and machinations, lust for public support, what could well turn out to be double deals with Russia, and still support innocent civilians in Syria:
- Is it possible – even likely – that when the Trump administration reversed itself and took military action, it did so as part of an opportunistic act designed to capture needed bi-partisan support? Absolutely!
- Is it possible – even likely – that the Trump administration knew the Russians would alert their Syrian military counterparts at the base that was about to be under attack? Absolutely!
- Is it possible that Rex Tillerson, a long-time business crony and ally of the Putin administration publicly used harsh, even humiliating language about Russia being ‘complicit or incompetent’ as a ploy to make it seem as if relations with Russia are breaking down, in an attempt to deconstruct the notion that Trump and Putin are really on good terms? Absolutely!
- Is it possible that Nikki Haley, who was parroting Tillerson at the U.N. and saying things that run counter to what President Trump has said in the past was part of a well-orchestrated ploy to deflect attention and garner GOP support? Absolutely!
All of those things are possible and none of them, singly or together, mean that Donald J. Trump can’t look at his TV screen and be horrified by what he sees. All of those things are possible and none of them, singly or together, should be taken to mean that Trump can’t both do the right thing and use it to his advantage. None of those things, separately or as a whole, should mean that what the Syrian population is going through should be left to fester and go on until a saner U.S. government is in place, or until the U.S. government does the right thing at home to correct horrific abuses it perpetrates on its own, on a regular basis.
We can continue to do more than shine a light on lead in the water in Flint and demand swifter action than has been taken thus far and still support actions that may deter further chemical bombings in Syria. The two issues have equal moral value but are not connected. We can support statehood for Palestinians and condemn Israeli human rights abuses without leaving Syrian civilians at the mercy of an amoral blood-thirsty dictator and his Russian henchmen. We can condemn Israel for its sins, without equating them to Bashar Al Assad’s.
Morally-abhorrent acts do not become morally-acceptable under differing conditions. What was right before Donald Trump became president and what is morally right while he is president remain one and the same. What must change is the resistance’s willingness to turn off its humanity, in its zeal to oppose Trump. When we do that, we become no less reprehensible than those we criticize. Trump is very reliant on public opinion polls and news reports. We must continue to oppose Trump by applying the same kind of continuous public pressure that was applied on Congress, and widen it to include the White House.
There is no reason to believe that Donald Trump does anything for the right reasons, and every reason to believe everything he does is out of self-interest. There is also no reason to trust that his immediate family is some kind of buffer between Trump’s greed and us, as some have written in the press about the impact of his daughter on the president’s policies. In fact, based solely on her business conduct, there is every reason to believe that Ivanka not only does as she is told, but probably thinks like her father to begin with. Why does anyone imagine that the apple fell far from the tree?
“I Can’t Believe What You Say Because I see What You Do.”
We knew going into this administration that our president is an opportunist and a liar. We need to treat him as we would anyone we do not trust: keep our eyes on him at all times and keep the utmost pressure on his administration and Congress at all times. Most of all, however, we must support progressive organizations that are working to fill public offices with progressive candidates. In a few special elections around the nation, it appears that Bernie Sanders-backed candidates are doing well. Our Revolution, the group that came out of Sanders’ primary run, has been working hard to keep the political revolution going. We must also support organizations like the ACLU. They are spearheading the effort to resist Trump’s executive orders. In 2018, it will be especially important to ensure that as many progressive city and state attorneys are elected. They too are spearheading the fight against the oligarchy we have become.
As for the Syrian babies Donald Trump expressed concern for, we can care about them, support retaliation attacks against their murderer, while still holding our president accountable not only for how he actually acts on policy, but how those policies are carried out. We can #resist Trump and demand that his government step in now to shorten the two year timeline of Flint water pipes being retrofitted. We can #resist Trump and demand he ditch his plans to deeply cut the budgets of government agencies like the EPA and immediately effect the cleanup of water supplies in many cities and states that are no less contaminated (some even more) than Flint. We can expose the system for all of its design flaws and the horrors it unleashes daily, without it being at the expense of our humanity and capacity to show compassion.
“On Aug. 21, 2013, I woke up in the dark around 4:45 a.m., struggling to breathe. My eyes were burning, my head was throbbing, and my throat was blocked. I was suffocating.
I tried to inhale but all I heard was a horrible rasping sound as my throat closed up. An unbearable pain drummed in my head. The world began to blur. I pounded my chest but couldn’t breathe. My heart seemed about to explode.
Suddenly, my windpipe opened. A gust of air pierced my lungs. Needles seemed to stab my eyes. A searing pain clawed at my stomach. I doubled over and shouted to my roommates: “Wake up! It’s a chemical attack!””