Let me present five signs of a hypocrisy, a fraud-in-the-making:
1: Launching a military barrage, as Trump did Friday, because chemical weapons were used in Syria, but ignoring a far greater ongoing slaughter using barrel bombs, high explosives, routine torture and summary executions.
The Syrian conflict has killed, often by the grisliest means imaginable, hundreds of thousands of people over the last seven years – the UN Envoy for Syria estimates 400,000 – and driven millions from their homes. The ghosts of all of those myriad dead might wonder what about sarin gas or chlorine merits an international military response while the methods of death meted out to them do not?
2: Suddenly finding one’s humanitarian voice for the suffering of Syria while keeping closed America’s doors to refugees who, for years, have been seeking to flee the abattoir that is their country.
Remember, not only did Trump shut out the world’s most vulnerable, criminalize refugees, slander them as dangerous and antithetical to American values, and set the vast might of the U.S. state against them, but he urged Europe, and in particular Germany, which had admitted huge numbers since 2014, to close their doors too.
As a result of his actions, the U.S. is admitting fewer refugees than it has done in decades, and letting in zero from Syria, residents of which are subject to Trump’s despicable travel ban. At the very least, now that the bombs are dropping, he should re-evaluate his refugee policy.
3: Trump announcing, on Twitter, his newfound concern for war victims after having spent much of his first 15 months in office as a traveling salesman for the U.S. arms industry – personally courting the Saudis and others to spend tens of billions of dollars on state-of-the-art weaponry, which has then promptly been used to kill civilians, indiscriminately, by the thousands, in conflicts in Yemen and elsewhere.
The UN estimates 5,000 civilians have been killed in Yemen alone in airstrikes, and up to eight million are at risk of famine because of the fighting. Meanwhile, parts of the Ukraine remain in war conditions; much of Latin America is being torn apart by violent drug cartels; fighting is flaring again in the Congo; and over the past month dozens of people in Gaza have been killed, including several journalists, and thousands injured in border clashes with the Israeli army.
None of these ongoing events have merited a U.S. blitzkrieg. Most haven’t even merited a Trump tweet.
4: Saying that weapons used by one side are barbaric and uncivilized – which they are, but that’s not why Trump is now saying it – while tweeting that U.S. missiles are “nice” and “new” and “smart,” as if that mitigates their impact on flesh and bones when they explode on the ground in Syria.
Only last year, Trump ordered, and then boasted about, the dropping on Afghanistan of what was breathily trumpeted as the Mother of All Bombs, a weapon carrying more explosive power than any non-nuclear bomb in the arsenal. And along with Obama and Bush before him, he has leaned heavily on drones to deliver deadly payloads to the far corners of the earth. Thousands of people, by some estimates mostly civilians caught up in the mayhem, have died in these bombings.
Late last year, the Syrian Network for Human Rights calculated that 2,286 civilians (between 30 and 50 times the numbers estimated killed by gas in Douma) had died during the U.S.-led bombing raids that brought down the ISIS caliphate ruling parts of Syria. These deaths, so little covered in the media, are regarded by the U.S. as insignificant, as “collateral damage.” Yet the distinction between “good” and “bad” killing and maiming is, I would suggest, one lost on the victims and their families.
5: Bombing Assad for using chemical weapons, just months after Trump went to the United Nations and threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea, a country of 25 million people, presumably with nuclear bombs.
Let me be clear: None of this is meant to mitigate the horror of the gas attacks in Syria. The use of gas, not to mention the normalizing of such weapons, is a nightmare and an atrocity of epic proportions.
Nor is it meant to say that those responsible, from Assad on down, shouldn’t be brought up before an international criminal court and tried for crimes against humanity. They should be, and Russia, Iran and the other enablers of Assad’s ghastly regime should be heavily sanctioned.
But the rush toward a military response after the Douma outrage, combined with Trump’s juvenile taunts telling Russia to “get ready” for missile strikes, is unlikely to achieve any real, long-term results for the good, and could conceivably lead to a hot war with Russia. It won’t lead to a more stable geo-political situation, reduce the number of killing fields in the world, or – in an era in which countries like the U.S. turn their backs on refugees – offer the displaced victims of these atrocities safe harbor.
We should know enough by now to beware of Trump’s motives. Critics have long warned that, faced with a growing likelihood of indictment, he might be willing to do anything, including stampeding into armed conflict if it served to divert attention.
This is the man who has advocated for state-sanctioned torture, the roughing up of criminal suspects by the police, the execution of drug dealers, the collective punishment of the families of terrorists; who has tarred the residents of an entire continent as coming from “shithole countries;” who has mused on why America possesses nuclear bombs if it doesn’t use them, and repeatedly praised Philippines president Duterte for his death squad governance.
Given this record, does anyone really believe he is genuinely appalled by these particular killings in Syria, or that he gives two figs for the lives of those caught up in the never-ending Syrian nightmare?
If you do, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you in Brooklyn… though come to think of it, I’m probably too late: Trump’s been selling you that bridge from the get-go, and selling that same bridge to anyone else who’s gullible enough to buy.
This president has spent more than a year distracting us with side-shows while he picks our pockets and plays us for suckers. This action, conveniently coming as the Mueller probe and other investigations crescendo, isn’t about human rights, or a strategic response to events in Syria. It’s just Trump’s latest con.
Sasha Abramsky is a Sacramento writer who teaches at UC Davis. His latest book is “Jumping at Shadows: The Triumph of Fear and the End of the American Dream.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.