Monday, April 10, 2017

A "Syrious" Matter

Since last Thursday evening (U.S. time) the news media has focused on the U.S. military strike against an airbase in Syria and the aftermath of that decisive action authorized by President Trump. Without question, this is a very serious (“Syrious”) matter that deserves careful consideration.
As you know, on April 6 at approximately 8:40 p.m. EDT (3:40 a.m. the next day in Syria) the U.S. launched 59 Tomahawk missiles on the Shayrat Air Base in western Syria.  
Pres. Trump ostensibly ordered the surprise strike in direct response to the chemical weapons attack in Idlib on April 4. That horrific attack apparently by the Assad regime killed around 80 people, about half of whom were women and children.
This month’s lethal gas attack in Syria, though, was on a far smaller scale than that of August 2013 when approximately 1,400 Syrians were killed by a similar attack.
Many politicians, mostly Republicans but some Democrats as well, were quite critical of President Obama for not taking action against the Assad regime following that 2013 attack. Of course, he did seek to get congressional approval for military action against Syria then, but Congress refused to act.
After his administration’s sputtering for its first 75 days, the current President may well have wanted to do something that would bolster his approval ratings and draw praise from the crowd who regularly referred to Obama as a feckless President.
Whether that was DJT’s intention or not, he seems to have reaped those benefits. Two of his Republican critics, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, have praised his action. And he even garnered positive comments from Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.
There are, however, numerous troublesome questions, the greatest of which is, Will this escalate into a broader, more serious war—even into World War III? Because of that ongoing possibility, I, for one, was relieved that Pres. Obama did not initiate military action against Syria in 2013.
Here are some other questions raised by the DJT’s April 6 action.
1) Was this just a symbolic strike? The very next day Syrian airplanes were able to use the Shayrat runways for takeoffs. If it was just symbolic, what real benefit did it have?
2) What was gained by using 59 missiles that would cost an estimated $60,000,000 to replace at a time the President’s budget calls for cuts in foreign aid and at a time tens of thousands are in danger of dying from starvation in Africa? Does the President need to see some pictures of those dying children?
3) What does it mean for the President to say that he was acting out of sympathy for children killed in Syria when he has proposed not accepting refugees from Syria into the U.S.?
4) What does it mean for the U.S. to be now on the same side as ISIS in Syria?
5) And this is a major question: Was it legal/constitutional for the President to order the strike?
At this point, less than four days after the April 6 attack, the world will just have to wait and see what the short- and long-term consequences of that attack will be. There are too many unknown variables to make any predictions at this time.
The main thing we don’t know is whether there will be further military action by the U.S. If not, perhaps the negative consequences will be negligible.
But if there are further unilateral strikes launched by the U.S., or retaliatory attacks by Syria—or especially by Russia—there will doubtlessly be many dark days ahead.


  1. The first response I received this morning was from a Thinking Friend who is a rural Missouri woman. (She wrote just before leaving to get her church opened for the Holy week service being hosted this week.) Here are her comments about the 4/6 airstrike on Syria:

    "I think the missile attack had one main reason—to distract from Russia and the less than efficient roll out of his staff. Trump is a showman. He does not think through his actions in any logical sense, only in what he will gain in the short run. He is dangerous. I have hated seeing all the 'now he’s presidential' media and other legislator’s comments. How blind and shallow."

    1. These seem to be reasonable comments, and I wonder why there aren't more people in the country who see things similarly--and perhaps there are more than we tend to think.

  2. Great post, Leroy. I appreciate your thoughtful questions toward the end—Trump's bombing of Syria and simultaneous refusal to let refugees into the country is indeed unconscionable.

    The only critical comments I would have to offer are 1) For such a grave subject, it's probably best not to use a pun in the title of your post, and 2) The U.S. has conducted over 7,000 missile strikes in Syria since September 2014, so we were already thoroughly involved there long before Trump took office; it's just that the strikes were so regular (and the fact that they were justified as being attacks on ISIS) that media outlets rarely took notice. I'm concerned about broader trends in U.S. foreign policy that seem to be more consistent across presidential regimes (both GOP and Dem)—particularly that of increased militarism and covert operations in the Middle East. If I remember correctly, you were at the AFSC screening of Jeremy Scahill's "Dirty Wars" at the Tivoli Theater a few years back, weren't you? If you're interested, Scahill has a podcast called "Intercepted" in which he frequently looks at both covert and overt military actions in Middle Easter countries.

    1. Joshua, good to hear from you again. Thanks for reading and responding to this morning's new blog article.

      Thanks, too, for your (critical) comments. Before posting the article I thought about what you said in 1)--but decided to go with it anyway. You may be right, though.

      Concerning 2): Yes, I know that the U.S. has launched many missile strikes in Syria for the last several years. But it seems that those all have been against ISIS or ISIS-related targets. As I understand it, this is the first attack that has been launched directly against the Assad regime and that is what makes this different--especially since Assad is supported (condoned?) by Putin.

      Yes, I did attend the screening of "Dirty Wars," and I appreciate your telling me about the podcast "Intercepted," which I have not heard.

      There is always a lot of stuff going on that we don't know about or certainly don't hear about in the mainstream news media. It is hard to get full and accurate information--and then even harder perhaps to know what to do on the basis of the information received.

    2. Thanks for your response, Leroy. It's good to have an opportunity to peruse the blog posts of friends again — needless to say, I've been a *little* busy this last year. But I'm wrapping up my coursework this quarter and gearing up for my comps in the fall.

      I'm also concerned about the strikes against ISIS in Syria. I don't have an answer to this extremely complex situation, but I do think it's a bit odd that the US now finds itself fighting on both sides of a war (to the extent that there are clear "sides" in this quagmire).I'm curious as to who's capitalizing on this humanitarian crisis, too. I know Trump owns stock in Raytheon, the company that builds Tomahawk missiles. But the saddest fact about the order to strike Syria is that it was made possible by the AUMF, initiated under GWB and greatly expanded under Obama. I guess my point is that Trump's actions aren't crazy or unanticipated, but rather contiguous with the deeply disconcerting bipartisan culture of militarism that America has cultivated since 9/11.

      The only caveat I'd mention about Scahill is that while I really like his journalism, he tends to be less-than-objective in some of his podcast commentary. As a (relatively) orthodox Christian at an extremely liberal theological school that often pretends to be ideology-free, however, I've come to appreciate people who openly acknowledge their bias without putting on airs.

    3. Thanks for continuing the conversation, Joshua. I was happy to hear the bit about your studies (finishing course work already!) and appreciate the additional comments on the situation in Syria.

  3. There are no good sides in this civil war. But many innocent civilians are caught in between. We do need to care about them, even if that requires some force.


  4. Here are comments from Thinking Friend Truett Baker in Arizona:

    "I enjoy your blogs as I have told you. However, on the question of the bombing in Syria, I am ambivalent because I don't know all the details about that decision. At first glance, it looks like a mistake as I am against war in the first place. However, I do not know the details of the situation on which our leaders made their decision. I'm not sure it would make any difference anyway but terrorism must be stopped. I hope someone else who responds to your blogs has a better solution."

    1. Truett, thanks for reading and responding to my new blog article yesterday.

      I am not sure there is any good solution to the situation in Syria, but I am fairly sure the missile attack isn't going to do much to stop terrorism. The main terrorists (ISIS) are also opposed to Assad.

  5. My esteemed Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson also sent the following comments yesterday:

    "You’ve raised the questions I have about this action, Leroy. Yet I’m conflicted in answering or speculating about answers. I know that we have to use force, but is the use of missiles the right force to use? I lean toward pressuring Russia. That will take patience, but impatience is costly."

    1. Thanks, Dr. Hinson, for your comments. I agree that pressuring Russia perhaps is a key aspect of what needs to be done, and certainly that will take patience as you suggest. And, yes, I fully agree that impatience is costly.

  6. I was happy to have this positive feedback from local Thinking Friend (and good personal friend) Ed Chasteen:

    "Thanks, Leroy, for a timely, careful, and thoughtful look at this crucial event."

  7. Military stocks are up, peace prospects are down, and politicians are scrambling. What is there not to like for Trump? Cheney and Rumsfeld were the primary beneficiaries of the senseless war in Iraq (if you don't count Iran), and Trump and his buddies no doubt count this as a win. For an example of a dissection of the attack, see this link: