Syria? Seriously?

Syria doesn't matter, but bombing it was still a good idea.

We thought it could never happen, but Donald Trump has finally done something that has - wonder of wonders! - the lefty media singing his praises.  Even staunch Democrats like Hillary and Nancy Pelosi are applauding.

What earthshaking action did Mr. Trump perform that brought about such a Damascene conversion?  Simple: He bombed a Syrian airfield.

Of course, he had an apparently good reason for doing so: our TV screens were filled with pictures of dead Syrian children.  They weren't any deader than the thousands of dead Syrian children who've filled our screens for the past few years, or the dead Iraqi children for years before that, or even the dead Bosnian, Serbian, Ethiopian, Sudanese, Yemeni, or Vietnamese children.

What made these children special?  Simple: unlike the rest, who were variously punctured, lacerated, shredded, blown to bits, pancaked, starved, or defenestrated, these children were gassed to death, presumably on the orders of Syria's dictator Bashar Assad.  Apparently that's particularly bad, because the Great Powers have decreed the unholy triumvirate of Weapons of Mass Destruction - nuclear, biological, and chemical - to be in a whole different class than simply bludgeoning someone to death with a claw hammer, a conventional bomb, or even the liberal's favorite bugaboo, the assault rifle.

This has nothing to do with partisan or even international politics; where WMDs are involved, both our parties, all our allies, and a considerable part of the rest of the world acts as one to condemn, and applaud violent action in opposition.

Smoke and Mirrors

If you look closer, though, something is strange: Despite spending several millions on missiles which were pretty close to their "sell by" dates anyway, Mr. Trump's fireworks display doesn't seem to have accomplished much.  Assad's planes were flying out of his airbase the next day.  All 59 missiles succeeded in killing, apparently, a grand total of 6 soldiers, which makes Bill Clinton's famous million-dollar missiles killing $10 camels seem a positive bargain.  Syria's air force wasn't large beforehand, but doesn't appear to be much diminished afterwards.

Never fear: Mr. Trump's wandering eye has moved on.  A scant few days later, the "Mother Of All Bombs" - said to be the largest non-nuclear bomb ever dropped, though Russia's President Putin has one four times larger - descended upon the deserts of Afghanistan to, reportedly, slaughter 90 or so ISIS militants.

That's a much better bang for the buck, to be sure, but what exactly is it supposed to accomplish?  In a world where there are over a billion Muslims, of which double digit percentages repeatedly support terrorism and mass slaughter, taking them out in handfuls isn't going to achieve anything.

What's more, Mr. Putin's Russia is famously on the side of Mr. Assad, and as Donald Trump has pointed out repeatedly, the world would be a better place if Russia and America could get along better.  Mr. Putin may not be Barney the Dinosaur but he is not trying to take over the world like Hitler, or massacre millions like his predecessor Stalin.

In fact, that leads to a startling fact: Syrian President Assad may look like Hitler, but by the standards set by Hitler, he's no Hitler either.

Sure he's killing people by the hundreds or thousands, but not the hundreds of thousands, and he usually kills his victims in something resembling combat operations as opposed to death camps.

Who are his sworn enemies?  ISIS, that's who - those barbarians who literally enslave women, forbid education, burn captured enemies alive, thrown homosexuals off of buildings, stone adulterers, chop limbs off of criminals, and all in all, do things even Hitler would blanch at doing in public.  The Nazis tried very hard to keep their depravities private and hidden from the world, with some even denying the truth of the Holocaust to this day; by contrast, ISIS proudly promotes and broadcasts their evil deeds on YouTube, for which you can find your own links, thank you very much.

So, should we be on Assad's side too, like the Russians?  No: as is nearly always the case in the Middle East, both sides are ghastly.  As Donald Rumsfeld once said of Iran and Iraq, "It's a shame they can't both lose."

Well... why can't they?  They're doing a very effective job of murdering each other.  At the moment it seems like Mr. Assad is on top, so knocking him down a peg keeps ISIS in the fight.  A few years back, ISIS was making major gains, so we weighed in on the other side in the Battle of Raqqa with some serious help from the Kurds.

In both cases, American funds were spent.  In both cases, barbaric Muslims ended up dead along with an indeterminate number of presumptively innocent children who, nevertheless, would have almost certainly grown up to be barbaric Muslims since that's what they're taught from cradle to early grave.  In neither case was any American blood shed.

And that's as it should be.  Meaning no disrespect at all to the thousands of American soldiers who heroically gave their lives in Iraq, the whole place wasn't worth even one of them.  Not the least of George Bush's well-meaning blunders was wasting the precious blood of our men in uniform on a liberation project that was never going to work.  Nation building in the Middle East is doomed because the people who live there mostly don't want it to work and we are too kindhearted to kill enough people to make it work over their dead bodies.

Syria is never going to be Switzerland.  But under Mr. Assad, it was sort of like Franco's Spain - definitely not a particularly nice place to live, but not a total bloodbath either.  Under ISIS it would be more like the rule of Genghis Khan, if not Vlad the Impaler.

Either way, there is zero reason why it should matter to us, so long as we had the elementary intelligence to keep the place quarantined.  Syria is a problem only because the foolish and feckless European governments, egged on by a hostile and duplicitous Turkish dictator and our equally foolish and feckless former President, have willingly invited countless throngs of psychopaths and murderers into their homes and ours.

Enemies of Enemies

If we wanted to stop terrorism in the West, we could 99% accomplish it in six months: deport all non-citizen Muslims, flatly ban any others from entering, aggressively surveil all mosques, declare sharia law to be an inherently hostile enemy political ideology that is treasonous by its very nature, and bring treason charges against anyone who communicates with ISIS or any other declared terrorist group.  When was the last time anyone other than a Muslim blew themselves up?

Yes, yes, a white so-called Christian terrorist murdered hundreds of government workers, and a few dozen children, in Oklahoma City.

In 1995.  Almost a quarter-century ago.  And he was careful to exclude himself from the carnage.  And instead of cheering him on, the entire rest of the white-Christian world worked as one to bring him to justice and the death sentence he so richly deserved.

Meanwhile, literally not a day goes by without Muslims murdering innocents somewhere, sometimes by the handfuls, sometimes in large numbers, and generally to the silent approval of their less bold co-religionists.  Wouldn't the world be a vastly better place if they spent so much time killing each other that they didn't have much energy left for everyone else?

Vladimir Putin, for all his faults, understands this; Mr. Trump seems to get it as well on some level.  Bashar Assad is not actually a fervent Muslim himself, but he has some idea of how to rule over them and he definitely knows how to kill them.  You can say he's a bloodthirsty tyrant, and you'd be 100% right, but who are you going to replace him with that would be any better?

It's horrible to say, but Libya, and the world, was vastly better off with the insane but crafty Muammar Qaddafi on the throne than it is today.  Iraq was a better place, as was the world, with Saddam Hussein in charge, than it is now, although his immediate neighbors and a significant minority of his citizens might not agree.  Egypt - well, it remains to be seen, but it's certainly a whole lot less stable, and at least ex-dictator Mubarak was able to mostly keep a lid on bombings of Coptic church services.

The Thought That Counts

Which brings us back to Syria.

We don't care about Syria.  There's no reason why we should care about Syria.  Donald Trump probably doesn't care about Syria either.

For that matter, we don't care about Afghanistan.

We do care, somewhat, about Russia, because it's big, powerful, halfway sensibly governed, and has the potential to be a good trading partner if we can cut a mutually profitable deal.  We definitely care about China, for the same reasons.  Europe has not been governed all that sensibly for a while, but it's rich and peaceful and we like the food, so we care about them too.  None of the above are an existential military threat to us because they have no reason or desire to be, nor we to them, and all the respective leaders understand this.

What we do care about is North Korea, because they have nuclear weapons that can hurt us and a madman in charge who just might want to use them.  Madmen don't care about rationality and good sense.  Barack Obama and Bill Clinton before him proved that it is not possible to have a fruitful negotiation with the North Koreans, any more than Chamberlain was able to with Hitler.  The only thing the Norks respect is brute force, but they have an unpleasantly large amount of potential brute force to smack back at us, or at least at South Korea via their shared land border.

We can't help but recall President Ronald Reagan's supposedly-accidental open-mic gaffe:

My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.

He never intended any such thing, but the Russians weren't quite sure, and treated him with kid gloves thereafter just as Qaddafi behaved a lot better after President Reagan fired missiles into his palace.  It's said that, when Mr. Reagan privately met Mikhail Gorbachev in person, he showed him pictures of his grandchildren, and mentioned the names of Mr. Gorbachev's own grandchildren.  Neither Mr. Reagan nor Mr. Gorbachev wanted the world to end in nuclear fire, and starting with this common ground, the Cold War was brought to a peaceful conclusion.

That won't work with Islamic terrorists, but the Russian hawks feared for their own skins and for their children's.  By showing that he's willing to fling bombs around willy-nilly - all, note, in places that nobody much cares about and being careful not to break anything that actually matters - Donald Trump is attempting to impress the same lesson on Kim Jong Un.

Mr. Kim may not give two hoots for anyone's skin save his own, but that one skin means the world to him.  President Trump is showing Mr. Kim that he needs to watch out for his own hide.  The visible presence out his palace window of three U.S. aircraft carrier fleets, when Mr. Kim has nary a one, drives the point home - we know where he lives.

As impressive as aircraft carriers are, their presence wouldn't mean nearly so much without the smell of smoke from Syria and Afghanistan in Mr. Kim's nostrils, and for that matter, in Mr. Putin's and everybody else's.  For the price of a few dozen nobodies who we're probably better off without anyway, Mr. Trump not only got to stage a really cool weapons test, he may save the lives of tens of millions of South Koreans and Japanese who actually do matter.  Go Trump!

Now if he'd just do something similar in principle about the Berkley rioters, though proportionately less intense and with a whole lot more due process, we'd really be moving in the right direction.

Read other articles by Hobbes or other articles on Foreign Affairs.
Reader Comments

Thumbs up for actually stating that which is pretty obvious to those who actually think vs emote about this stuff.

April 20, 2017 9:16 AM

Thanks to the fact that fake news finally got on everyone's radar, there is considerable skepticism being expressed:

This is comments on the White House note about the attack

It's been noted that Mr. Assad did not say the gas attack did not take place, but he did say that he did not do it. This article examines various hypotheses about the perpetrators of what the author believes to be a gas attack:

April 23, 2017 3:43 PM

I always thought Trump's bombing binge was to tell the world that the US is back and will punish naughty thugs. Yes Syria isn't worth the fuel used to power those rockets. And the airbase was up and running pretty quickly. But it did show the Head Thug that Putin's protection doesn't mean much. And the next array of bombs may become Assads dinner guests. It worked in Lybia.
I think the MOAB bombing had more strategic value in our war with ISIS. Their recruiting pitch to Muslim losers has been join up, live in a military camp, play at a religion that sell male superiority and rape all the non Muslim women you want. It seemed idyllic when fighting against fellow losers. But serious military powers require a second thought or two. Hard to justify all those goodies when half a mountain could fall on you at any moment. Betcha the ISIS recruiting Sargents will miss quota.

April 23, 2017 8:11 PM
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