Take the fight to Syria? Who says? The guy who tweets about Chuck Todd’s “sleepy eyes” in the predawn hours?
As of April 5, just over a week ago, intervention in Syria was “silly,” according to the commander in chief. The next day, the U.S. was dropping bombs on a Syrian air base. “My views have changed,” the president said. And tomorrow? We have no idea.
Writing for a weekly publication has never been more challenging. Even the dailies can’t keep up with Trumpmania. The New York Times said it changed its website’s banner headline six times in one 24-hour period recently because the ground was shifting so fast and furiously.
I have no idea what the world will look like by the time you read this, but last week we were haunted by images of dying children after a sarin gas attack in Syria. How can anyone look at those little boys and girls, choking and foaming at the mouth, and then go to Starbucks or off to the supermarket? And how can we know that cruise missiles were the best next step? Last week’s action felt right, but it wasn’t based on any fully realized American foreign policy.
What we do know is that this complex Syrian civil war, which began in 2011, has deep roots. The players include President Bashar al-Assad, various rebel factions with conflicting goals, ISIS on the ground and the U.S., Russia and Iran as intermittent proxy and present forces. The knotted political and military claims coming from all directions are destroying a people and all remnants of an ancient civilization.
According to one United Nations report, some 400,000 people have been killed in the war in Syria in the past six years. Some half-million have been displaced within the country, and millions more have fled, flooding through Europe and ending up as far away as Australia.
I go back to the beginning. As a people who purport to hold the moral high ground, we feel compelled to act on behalf of innocent victims. The facts on the ground, the photos and the reports of mass gassing, are horrific.
But we are, at the moment, indisposed. Our president is an unreliable actor. His decisions, even the one to bomb Syria, seem big on gesture and small on process. We hope his military team is skilled and experienced. But where is the moral center of this administration? Who weighs all the military, legal, ethical and political considerations before launching missiles?
Candidate Trump and his supporters used President Obama’s red-line moment as proof of a weak, indecisive leader. Then, when we first learned of the gas attack, which killed some 100 people, including 25 children, Trump seemed to stall. He spoke out immediately, expressing requisite sympathies, but he said it was not practical to go after Assad, the mastermind of the attacks. He said it would be silly. He pretty much said everything Obama had said.
Next day, different story. The president said that the photos of the dying babies had changed his thinking. Then we attacked.
Who will be behind White House Door No. 1 tomorrow morning? Trump the pragmatic business tycoon, for whom all interactions are transactional, or Trump the human being, who claims to have found empathy in the cold vault of his heart? This man, who has sexually assaulted women and bragged about it, mocked disabled people on television, lied often and loud, bragged incessantly about deeds done and not done, has lost his right to be trusted.
Where does this leave us? It leaves me hoping that military and State Department officials with savvy and experience will create and execute a reasonable plan to help the Syrian people. Even if it’s the best of the worst plans, it will be better than bearing silent witness to their immense suffering. The bombing of the air base may turn out to be a useful deterrent to further Assad atrocities, but the lack of real process is unsettling.
For me and for others, there is another immediate action we can take to address the pain and loss on the ground. I will do as I’ve done in the past, and make a donation to Doctors Without Borders. The group is active in northern Syria, although not authorized by the Assad government to be there. It works to get emergency supplies, health kits, food, temporary shelter and medicine to people in need.
The doctors and other personnel are the heroes in this dark hour. Their hospitals have been bombed, doctors have been kidnapped and killed, and yet others step up and volunteer. They offer medical care and solace and a thread of hope so that the wounded and forsaken can begin to weave new lives.
Donations may be sent to Doctors Without Borders (MSF), 333 7th Ave., Second Floor, New York, N.Y. 10001, or made at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (212) 763-5779.
Copyright © 2017 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at email@example.com.