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My Turn: Trump versus Trump on undeclared Mideast wars

  • A woman holds a bouquet of flowers and a Syria flag during a rally in opposition to the U.S. airstrikes in Syria on April 7 in Allentown, Pa. Allentown has one of the nation's largest Syrian populations. They are mostly Christian and support Syrian President Bashar Assad. AP



For the Monitor
Thursday, April 13, 2017

In 2013, Donald Trump had a clear policy on the Syrian Civil War: stay out. He posted often about the futility of Obama’s attacks. A few of the tamer tweets:

“Obama wants to unilaterally put a no-fly zone in Syria to protect Al Qaeda Islamists Syria is NOT our problem.” (May 29, 2013 – 2:58 p.m.)

“We should stay the hell out of Syria, the ‘rebels’ are just as bad as the current regime. WHAT WILL WE GET FOR OUR LIVES AND $ BILLIONS?ZERO.” (June 15, 2013 – 8:33 p.m.)

“What will we get for bombing Syria besides more debt and a possible long-term conflict? Obama needs Congressional approval.” (Aug. 29, 2013 – 2:14 p.m.)

Now in 2017, Citizen Trump has disappeared. In his place is President Trump, whose foreign policy is indistinguishable from Obama’s (or for that matter, the Bushes’ or Clinton’s). There is no concern for legal details such as congressional declarations of war or even resolutions. Missiles are launched as flippantly as tweets.

Currently, the United States supports many “moderate” terror groups in Syria. Simultaneously, we are bombing ISIS and firing cruise missiles at a Bashar Assad-controlled, possibly Russian-manned airfield. U.S. weapons are killing civilians all over Syria, while preventing any one faction from gaining enough strength to end the conflict.

One of the many U.S.-backed moderate terror groups is the Assyrian “Syriac Military Council” – yes, those Assyrians, the ones who conquered Babylon. The ethnic hatreds in this war were old in 2500 B.C. But Trump (he has a Very Good Brain) will be able to solve all the Middle East’s problems. He will Make Assyria Great Again. The Donald: “I know more about ISIS than the generals do. Believe me.”

The Syrian Civil War has killed more than 400,000 people so far. A few of them were killed by poison gas. No one knows for sure how many. In 2013 it was loudly announced that Assad had used nerve gas. Then it turned out that maybe the nerve gas was launched by U.S.-backed rebels. Just to make sure, the Russians turned Assad’s armories upside down and shook them until any old stocks of chemical weapons fell out.

Trump launched 59 missiles less than 72 hours after media reports of a chemical attack. It is not at all clear that Assad is the guilty party. Assad’s forces would have nothing to gain from attacking a minor town with a tiny amount of sarin. Maybe conventional bombs from the Syrian air force hit a gas bomb in a rebel armory. Maybe there is an even more Byzantine origin. This is the Middle East; there are so many intelligence agency players that getting the facts about any incident is unlikely.

But we do know that Trump’s actions were illegal under the U.S. Constitution. It has become fashionable to scoff at the Constitution; certainly previous administrations have. (The last time Congress bothered to declare a war was in 1943, against the minor Axis powers). Those in both political parties who call the Constitution a scrap of paper should consider the example of the Swiss. They still limit the war power of their president to defensive action only, and they have stayed out of war for more than 200 years.

We also know that our bombs and cruise missiles kill civilians. Every time we “send a message” by bombing some random village or airfield, ordinary people die. American politicians assume that those people will never be able to hit back because their countries have no WMDs.

In the 21st century, everyone with an internet connection has WMDs. The recipes for sarin and VX are available to anyone with a grudge. So are the protocols to make Ebola/flu hybrid viruses, explosives to blow dams from fishing boats and toy drones to deliver weapons (as ISIS has discovered).

Every ancient, pointless ethno-religious conflict we join adds another risk of blowback against American children.

Citizen Trump was right: The U.S. gains nothing from Mideast war and has everything to lose. All U.S. citizens, regardless of party, must support Citizen Trump against President Trump and restore the constitutional checks on use of military force.

Launching missiles should be harder than launching tweets.

(Bill Walker works for M2S in Plainfield. He has written about Swiss civil defense for Antiwar.com.)