April 7 2017, 7:43 a.m.
WN: “The first casualty of war is truth“, is an adage proved invariably true throughout human history under all kinds of regimes: not least democracies. Or, as author/activist David Swanson tirelessly and convincingly argues: War Is a Lie – not only title of his most recent book, but a reality as true as motherhood and apple pie. One can assert as accurately that “War is as American as motherhood and apple pie“.
The Trump White House is preliminarily indicating that this was a limited strike, designed to punish Assad for his use of chemical weapons, rather than a new war to remove him. But such aggression, once unleashed, is often difficult to contain. The Russian and Iranian governments, both supportive of Assad, have bitterly denounced Trump for the attack, with a Putin spokesman calling it a “significant blow” for U.S.-Russian relations. Russia already announced retaliation in the form of suspending cooperation agreements.
Even if it is contained, there are endless implications from Trump’s initiation of military force against the Syrian Government. For now, here are ten critical points highlighted by all of this:
- New wars will always strengthen Trump: as they do for every leader.
The instant elevation of Trump into a serious and respected war leader was palpable. Already, the New York Times is gushing that “in launching a military strike just 77 days into his administration, President Trump has the opportunity, but hardly a guarantee, to change the perception of disarray in his administration.”
Political leaders across the spectrum rushed to praise Trump and support his bombing campaign. Media coverage was overwhelmingly positive. One consummate establishment spokesman accurately observed:
Among US political establishment, attacks on Assad the most popular action Trump has taken to date as President.
New wars trigger the worst in people: their jingoism, their tribal loyalties, their instinct to submit to authority and leaders. The incentive scheme here is as obvious as it is frightening: great rewards await political leaders who start new wars. In Federalist 4, John Jay warned of all the personal benefits a leader obtains from starting a new war – which is the reason it was supposed to be difficult for U.S. Presidents to do it:
It is too true, however disgraceful it may be to human nature, that nations in general will make war whenever they have a prospect of getting anything by it; nay, absolute monarchs will often make war when their nations are to get nothing by it, but for the purposes and objects merely personal, such as thirst for military glory, revenge for personal affronts, ambition, or private compacts to aggrandize or support their particular families or partisans. These and a variety of other motives, which affect only the mind of the sovereign, often lead him to engage in wars not sanctified by justice or the voice and interests of his people.
Trump is going to see – and feel – the establishment and media respect he craves, the sensations of strength he most lacks, by dropping bombs. Every person, let alone Trump, would be tempted to keep pursuing war as a result of this warped incentive framework. Indeed, Trump himself has long been aware of this motivation as he accused Obama in 2012 of preparing to start a new war in response to falling poll numbers:
Now that Obama’s poll numbers are in tailspin – watch for him to launch a strike in Libya or Iran. He is desperate.
Those who instantly fall in line behind Trump as he bombs people are ensuring that he will keep doing it. As the instantly popular post-9/11 George W. Bush showed, those praising Trump for bombing Syria are also building him up in general so that he becomes stronger with everything else he wants to do.
4. Trump’s bombing is illegal, but presidents are now omnipotent.
It should be startling and infuriating that Trump is able to order a new attack on the Syrian Government without any democratic debate, let alone Congressional approval. At least when Obama started bombing Syria without Congress, he had the excuse that it was authorized by the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force, since his ostensible targets were terrorist groups (even though ISIS did not exist until years after that was enacted and is hardly “affiliated” with Al Qaeda). But since there’s no self-defense pretext to what Trump just did, what possible legal rationale exists for this? None.
But nobody in Washington really cares about such legalities. Indeed, we have purposely created an omnipotent presidency. Recall that in 2011, Obama went to war in Libya not just without Congressional approval, but even after Congress rejected such authorization.
What happened to Obama as a result of involving the U.S in a war that Congress had rejected? Absolutely nothing, because Congress, due to political cowardice, wants to abdicate war-making powers to the President. As a country, we have decided we want an all-powerful president – one who can bomb, and spy, and detain, and invade with virtually no limits. That’s the machinery of the imperial presidency that both parties have jointly built and have now handed to President Trump.
Indeed, in 2013, Obama explicitly argued that he had the right to bomb Assad without Congressional approval – a precedent the Trump White House will now use.
During the [election] campaign, Trump explicitly vowed to commit war crimes: to torture detainees and purposely murder the families of terrorists. Back in April of last year, I summarized Trump’s mindset this way: “he favors fewer wars, but advocates more monstrous, war-criminal tactics for the ones US does fight.”
Given everything that has been claimed about Trump by his critics, how can any of them justify cheering for a bombing campaign led by him? Do they experience no cognitive dissonance at all in having spent months depicting Trump as a lying, deceitful fascist, only to now turn around and trust him to bomb other countries with care, humanitarianism and efficacy?
But the psychological comfort of believing that the only reason your government bombs more countries by far than any other is because your country is just so uniquely devoted to humanitarian love is so powerful that it overrides all rational faculties. That’s why all wars – even the most malicious and aggressive – are wrapped in humanitarian packaging. And no matter how many times we see that this packaging is a lie – in Vietnam, in Iraq, in Libya – we keep wanting to believe that, this time, our bombs will be filled with love, help and freedom.
The same is true – indeed even more so – of this horribly toxic premise long endorsed by the world of U.S think tanks that a President must go to war to preserve “credibility” – meaning that he must drop bombs and kill people to show the world that he, and the country he leads, is “strong.” To see that hideous premise in action, look at how the New York Times gloriously depicted Bush 41’s senseless invasion of Panama in the above article, or how the NYT yesterday described the view of “experts” about Trump’s need to bomb Syria:
There may be some things more evil and immoral than starting a new war based on the desire to avoid “looking weak,” but it’s hard to think of many things that qualify. And yet this belief continues to be gospel among America’s war-loving think tank and Foreign Policy Community.
Ultimately, what is perhaps most depressing about all of this is how, yet again, we see the paucity of choice offered by American democracy. The leadership of both parties can barely contain themselves joining together to cheer the latest war. One candidate – the losing one – ran on a platform of launching this new war, while the other – the victor – repeatedly vowed to avoid it, only to launch it after being in office fewer than 100 days.
The one constant of American political life is that the U.S. loves war. Martin Luther King’s 1967 denunciation of the U.S. as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today” is more accurate than ever.
UPDATE: While Prime Minister Trudeau yesterday urged an investigation before any action is taken, once Trump’s bombs fell, he issued a statement expressing full support, directly contradicting his earlier statements: “President Assad’s use of chemical weapons and the crimes the Syrian regime has committed against its own people cannot be ignored.”
Please click on: The Spoils of War
Please also see my piece: War and Hell.