The April 4 chemical attack on Syrian civilians by Bashar al-Assad’s government claimed more than 80 lives of Syrians living in Khan Sheikhoun, a rebel-held town in the northern region of the country. In a remarkably petty show of political ignorance, President Donald Trump’s statement following the attacks focused more on condemning President Barack Obama’s administration’s diplomatic efforts in Syria than in condemning Assad for the chemical attack against his own civilians.
“[Assad’s heinous actions were a] consequence of the past administration’s weakness and irresolution.” Trump said. “President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a ‘red line’ against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing.”
By the day after the attack, Trump had already authorized the deployment of at least 59 Tomahawk missiles aimed at an airfield in Homs, Syria. Additionally, these 24 hours had a transformative effect on Trump, who, as per usual, had done a complete 180 on the situation in Syria.
“When you kill innocent children, innocent babies, babies, little babies, with a chemical gas that is so lethal, people were shocked to hear what gas it was, that crosses many, many lines,” said Trump.
The Syrian civil war is by no means a new conflict. Beginning six years ago, the war has claimed an estimated 400,000 lives as of 2016, making it the deadliest conflict of the 21st century thus far. The conflict is responsible for displacing an estimated 11 million Syrians, with an additional 13.5 million Syrians in need of humanitarian assistance within the country itself.
Therefore, the very fact that it took this specific chemical attack on civilians for Trump to finally come to his senses and condemn the situation in Syria is, simply put, pathetic. In response to The Badger Herald columnist John Graber’s column Tuesday, the missile strike and Trump’s sudden change of heart regarding Syria does not show that Trump is able to learn on the job or that he is willing to compromise. In fact, it shows almost the complete opposite.
Instead, Trump’s decisions regarding Syria shows his ridiculous ability to stay so out of touch with reality that he is simply unable, or unwilling, to accept that the conflict in Syria is a massive humanitarian crisis without being reminded by the occasional chemical attack. Additionally, Trump proves that he is willing to twist anything, even the deaths of innocent civilians, to fit into his discombobulated foreign agenda.
Graber argues the U.S. should be vigilant in world affairs. Yes, the U.S. should pay attention to world affairs, but paying attention does not mean sending 59 missiles to Syria in order to stroke Trump’s fragile ego and remind him that he has bigger guns than the competition. Nor does vigilance in world affairs mean ignoring the Syrian refugee crisis that Trump and his administration love to exacerbate by not allowing even a portion of the 11 million displaced Syrians into the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Case in point: Trump’s beloved Muslim ban. When proposed, the ban would “suspend for 90 days the entry of certain aliens from seven countries,” one of which is Syria. How can anyone argue that the U.S. is remaining vigilant in world affairs when it is shirking its responsibility as a nation to accept refugees?
Sending the missiles to Syria was nothing more than an opportunity for Trump and his military-happy Republicans to put on a gun show for Assad and his Russian allies, in a slightly more advanced version of a pissing contest. This time, the U.S. won, but at what cost?
It is high time that the notion that the U.S. is somehow responsible for policing the world is put to rest. Graber’s weak argument that “no other country holds our values” is exactly what is wrong with American nationalism in 2017.
What values is he talking about? Life and liberty, as spelled out in the Constitution? America certainly can’t claim to hold those values near and dear as the president shuts the country’s borders to people in dire need of assistance and of solace from their war-torn countries. Is he talking about the ubiquitous “Christian values” that have managed to nudge their way into the conservative rhetoric? How can this country claim to have good Christian values when “love thy neighbor” only applies if the neighbor is white, rich and straight?
America’s so-called values are polluted by racism, bigotry, sexism and a general unwillingness to extend a helping hand to a person in need who doesn’t look like you or worship the same God. These are not values that should be spread to the rest of the world, nor that this country should be proud of.
The missile strike on Syria does not “reassure a concerned world [that] America is back.” The missile strike on Syria shows that the U.S. led by Trump will continue sticking its nose in places where it doesn’t belong with unnecessary amounts of force that reinforce only the bravado of the president and the war-happy Republican party.
America’s international role should not be one which adds to the violence and turns a blind eye on the millions of refugees displaced by the very missiles America is sending. What will make America truly great again is understanding that its responsibility as a global leader is to provide aid to people in need and to work peacefully to resolve conflict.
It’s a shame Trump doesn’t understand this.
Aly Niehans ([email protected]) is a freshman majoring in international studies and intending to major in journalism.