Syria: A Study in Conflict - By Greer Clem
I am conflicted. I had intended to release an article about the importance of the filibuster and this week's senate collapse over supreme court nominations, but that changed last night when I was alerted via Twitter that Donald Trump had authorized an air strike attack in Syria. And now, I am conflicted.
Earlier this week, after Syria's devastating chemical attack on its own citizens, I watched a video that I'm sure most of you have seen. I watched a father bury his twin daughters, his wife also lost to the attack, and have to be almost carried away from their graves because he was unable to stand for the weight of his grief. I watched this video and I cried; I didn't want to be seeing it. In fact, somewhat cowardly, I had avoided any news images of the victims of the attack, wanting to spare myself. But I did watch the video, and I think Donald Trump did too. No doubt, as Commander in Chief, he had to see the worst of the attack, and it has become apparent that that influenced his decision to attack Syria. Now, there are many points to address, both political and emotional, but I want to begin by saying this: no one can say they don't understand wanting to act. Whether or not that was the right decision will be determined, and far be it from me to advocate humanizing a man who I am so adamantly opposed to, but I do believe that we have seen the first glimmer of empathy in our new President, and I am relieved. I am conflicted, but I am relieved.
Now that I have stirred up some controversy, let's examine what this attack means for today's political climate. In 2013, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons reported that Syria had completely eradicated all of their chemical stockpiles. Tragically, we now know that that was not the case, but at the time, President Obama considered seeking Congressional approval to take military action against the Assad regime, something Donald Trump was vehemently against. In a reversal of his previous position, Trump took military action last night without seeking Congressional approval, a fact that has caused both outrage and support, not necessarily decided by party lines. The majority of our international allies have expressed their support for Trump's actions, which his advocates are using to prop up the decision to bypass Congressional approval. Israel, Saudi Arabia, Germany, France, and the UK have all expressed their support of Trump thus far. Here is my take-away: the support of our international allies seems to confirm the underlying sentiment that it was time to take harsher action against Assad, but it didn't have to be today when it could have been tomorrow with Congressional approval. Eliminating the 60 vote minimum for Supreme Court confirmation just one day before taking military action without Congressional approval leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Separation of powers exists for a reason; eliminating the 60 vote minimum creates far too cozy a relationship between a President and his nominee, just as taking military action without Congressional approval sends far too strong a personal message. Which leads me to the next issue: Russia.
For months and months, every news outlet has been speculating as to the relationship between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. I can tell you one thing for certain: if they are pals, there is definitely a lovers' quarrel on the horizon. Moscow today warned that the attack on a Syrian air base has further eroded an already precarious relationship. Over the past eight years, Obama tried diplomatically to work with Putin, who has long supported the Assad regime and has offered him military support in the past. While the US gave funding and support to the armed rebels in Syria, Putin continued to bolster the Assad regime, also backed by Iran. Even under Obama, a far more skilled and practiced politician than Trump, this was tense. Now, we have Trump's bull-in-a-china-shop political style to deal with and a personal relationship that we still do not understand. This could go many ways. Donald Trump could indeed have a good relationship with Putin and that could be used to his advantage, despite confirming what Democrats have been clamoring for months. Donald Trump could have absolutely no relationship with Putin, as Republicans have been clamoring for months, and that could cause World War Three. I think it's likely somewhere in the middle, but I am scared to say that I am genuinely not sure.
I do know this: if any military action kills a Russian citizen, diplomacy will go out the door. I think ultimately, it will be Trump's ensuing actions, and not the air strike itself, that will leave a lasting impression. Donald Trump is not a skilled diplomat; he has no experience. Republicans like to compare him to Reagan in this way, but Reagan had the good sense to surround himself with people who did know what they were doing. Trump, sadly, does not. Russia has already said that it would no longer be sharing information with the U.S. regarding Syrian airstrike operations and that it would be helping Syria to buffer its defense - not great signs. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, known to have a close relationship with Moscow, will be visiting Tuesday for what I hope will be a diplomatic mission.
Well, I'm at the end of this article and I am still conflicted. I do not want to feel ashamed in voicing my understanding of the sentiment behind Trump's actions; I do understand. Honestly, I probably would have wanted to drop some bombs too. But what about the refugees? What about the Muslim ban? What about that man's twin daughters? If we were to allow asylum for the victims of Assad's regime, how many daughters could we save? How many could you save, Mr. President? I know that being in politics means you cannot act on your gut emotions; you have to weight the costs and benefits, the risks and rewards. I guess what I am left with is this: I am relieved to see some empathy from our President, but I wish that were directed differently. Our doors should be open to anyone seeking refuge from oppression, as they have been since our country's founding. The day may well come, may even be here already, when we have to take military action against Syria, but I would urge President Trump to rely on Congressional approval to make this decision, for it is a decision too big for any one person.