Saturday, April 14, 2018

Making Sense of Trump's Syria Attack

Why Now?
"A republic, if you can keep it."

-- Benjamin Franklin
reply when asked what
government the Constitutional
Convention created

Our responsibilities as the citizens of a democratic state are a heavy burden, but one we willingly bear.

The pillars of our democracy are under as much stress today as I can recall ever existing during the past 50 years or so. From within our borders and without, there are attacks on the integrity of our media, elections, judges, FBI, political opponents, public education, and the norms of presidential governance and behavior.

Hiring and firing of presidential appointees, financial and sexual scandals, presidential decisions announced by tweet one day and reversed the next, special counsel and congressional investigations related to the president, and more, come at us like the floods of spring. Dramatic revelations and stories that, alone, might normally provide headlines for a week, disappear by nightfall, smothered by those that follow.

The first requirement of our role as public citizens is that we give at least some time every day to informing ourselves, and trying to make some sense out of what our public officials are doing -- and failing to do. These days one could say, "If you're not confused you haven't been paying attention."

So it is with Trump's announcement, and military attack on Syria, last evening (April 13, 2018).

Here's my effort to suggest what may be, if not the only factor, at least one of the motivating factors in President Trump's attack on Syria -- his decision to do what he did when he did it>

I believe my offering can best be conveyed with four videos -- if taken all together, and in this sequence.

(1) The first is German public television's documentary, "Dangerous Ties." It describes Trump's business partners and practices, the role of Russians in his finances, and other matters now being addressed by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, following the acquisition of documents from Trump's lawyer. Matt Apuzzo, "F.B.I. Raids Office of Trump's Longtime Lawyer Michael Cohen; Trump Calls It 'Disgraceful,'" New York Times, April 10, 2018, p. A1.

The 44-minute documentary is called "Dangerous Ties: Trump and His Business Partners." It reveals information that attentive American citizens need to know about their president. But it is especially relevant today, in its relation to the Syria attack, given the New York Times headline that, "Trump Sees Inquiry Into Cohen as Greater Threat Than Mueller" (Matt Apuzzo, Michael S. Schmidt, Maggie Haberman and Eileen Sullivan, New York Times, April 14, 2018, p. A1).

Here it is:

(2) The second is Danny Schechter's 2004 documentary, "Weapons of Mass Deception" (2004), describing the interlocked role of government and media in generating American citizens' support for war (1:38:00). If you watch the whole documentary carefully you will never again watch, or read, news stories of America's wars in the same way. I believe it is essential that citizens of a nation that spends more on its military than the next ten nations combined have at least this much sophisticated understanding regarding news of its nation's military.

(3) The third video is "Wag the Dog" (1997). As is occasionally the case, it provides understanding not as a documentary, but as an entertainment feature film -- at least the first 13 minutes of it. Because it grossed $64,000,000 you may well have seen it twenty years ago. If you didn't you should; if you did you need a refresher. (There doesn't appear to be a good quality copy available for free, but you can get it from Amazon (rent or buy) or Netflix (rent).)

The essential premise of the film for our purposes is that a president, caught up in a sex scandal with an important election looming, turns to a political consultant who proposes the creation of a media story sufficiently powerful to drive reporters away from the president's troubles. After considerable reflection, the consultant concludes the only media story big enough would be the creation of a war -- whether in fact or only in believable fantasy. You can get a suggestion of this theme from the first 33-seconds of this original theatrical trailer:

4. Finally, there are the President's remarks last evening. "President Trump Announces Strikes Against Syria," Voice of America, April 13, 2018 (0:7:40). On Tuesday, April 3, without warning to DOD, veering off topic from a speech on trade, Trump called for an immediate removal of American troops from Syria. The next day, April 4, he was finally briefed by his military advisers and backed off. Julie Hirschfeld Davis, "Trump Drops Push for Immediate Withdrawal of Troops From Syria," New York Times, April 5, 2018, p. A12. On April 11 he tweeted, "Get ready Russia, because they [missiles] will be coming, nice and new and 'smart.'" Jonathan Chait, "Trump Uses Social Media to Announce Attack on Syria, Confess to Obstruction of Justice," New York Magazine, April 2018. And by last night (two days later, April 13) they were.

What is the President's mission in Syria; what is his strategy? No one thinks using chemical weapons on one's people is a cool thing to do. But missiles are not a strategy -- especially when following a president's expressed desire to pull out all troops immediately, followed the next day by a reversal of position, and accompanying an express rejection of regime change.

So, why are we there? He has to offer something. It was, he said, because it is "a vital national security interest of the United States," because "the United States . . . is doing what is necessary to protect the American people." What these assertions mean, and why they are true, was left to our imaginations. What can the American people do? He concluded, "Tonight I ask all Americans to say a prayer for our noble warriors."

We will probably never know how much of last evening's missile attack on Syria was about "storming Damascus" and how much about "Stormy Daniels." Clearly, it diverted attention from this weekend's and next week's promotion of James Comey's blockbuster book, A Higher Loyalty, and the revelations of what Michael Cohen and Donald Trump have been cooking up, soon to be revealed in the documents from Cohen's office, home, and hotel room.

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1 comment:

Nick said...

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