The footage that came out of Syria last week is beyond description. Bashar al-Assad’s chemical attack against his own people is nearly impossible to watch. The realities of this act of war, as well as all of the atrocities of this six year long conflict, are unbearable. These are crimes against humanity — a holocaust.
So resonant were these particular images that they provoked a complete reversal in policy by President Donald Trump. It took merely three months for an administration built on “America First” isolationist rhetoric to engage in unilaterally executed acts of war. Not only did the Trump administration launch 59 Tomahawk missiles into Syria, but it also escalated the 16 year long conflict in Afghanistan, dropping the largest non-nuclear bomb in the American arsenal.
Make no mistake — this rapid turn towards heightened military involvement comes with no outright goals, no articulated long-term strategy and no sense of limited intervention. Once again, the United States is diving headfirst into a civil war that it is in no way capable of successfully maneuvering, from either a military or humanitarian perspective.
The Syrian Civil War is by no means clean cut. It began with 2011’s Arab Spring, when protests rose up against totalitarianism throughout the Arab world. Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, responded to political dissent by committing war crimes against his own citizens. Much of the conflict has dissolved into sectarianism, exacerbated by foreign intervention by the United States, Russia, Iran and Turkey, as well as by the Islamic State group.
As recently as two weeks ago, the outward aim of the Trump administration was to defeat IS in the region. This would, to a certain extent, necessitate that Assad, a murderous dictator, stay in power. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson decried that the Syrian people would decide the fate of Assad. United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley said removing Assad from power was “no longer a priority.”
Now the Trump administration has directly attacked Assad. Does Trump know this is at odds with his reported goal of removing IS from the region? Does he know that this would likely put him in direct conflict with the Russians, who align themselves with Assad? Has he even begun to grasp the complexities of the Kurdish involvement in this war, and the conflict between the Kurds and Turkey?
More hypocritical than this reversal in policy, however, is the Trump administration’s horrendous claim that this intervention is rooted in humanitarian need. The Trump administration has systematically worked to stymie the already far too small numbers of Syrian refugees permitted into the United States. And now, as Syrians attack other Syrians, and the United States attacks the already war-torn region, and our nation closes its borders. The administration cannot claim its mission is humanitarian if it is creating more death and more destruction while limiting safe havens for the civilians fleeing death and destruction.
These policies echo some of the worst military and foreign policy mistakes in American history. A thoughtless attack paired with a guttural, immature fear of the desperate men, women and children waiting at our shores. This is the ultimate show of cowardice. Doves feared a hawkish Hillary Clinton — instead, the nation’s leader has shown his true colors to be far more of a hawk, without the respect for information, diplomacy and human dignity.
While crimes against humanity must have consequences, there are copious issues with what appears to be a simply pathologically driven response to the footage of last week — a response without a plan for future course of action.
This is not to say action need not be taken. Supporters on both sides of the aisle have been quick to reply to Trump’s action, saying that the crisis in Syria requires an international hand and input by Congress. Regardless of partisanship, such statements have merit, considering the longevity and horrific nature of the civil war in Syria. Yet, action without a plan, and without answers to the relevant and necessary questions being asked, is extraordinarily dangerous.
Was this simply a demonstration of American power? An attempt to raise Trump’s low favorability ratings by stirring America’s base instincts and love of war? Playing into the tendencies of cable news, so ready to describe war as beautiful for the sake of ratings? Will American intervention even help the situation at all?
Is the nation ready to dive head-first into another country's civil war, with aims oriented more towards military victory rather than humanitarian aid? Is the nation ready for another Iraq War? Another Vietnam War?
These questions demand answers, and will likely not receive them any time soon — especially not from a president too distracted by the richness of the chocolate cake he ate with Chinese President Xi Jinping to remember exactly which countries he bombed.
TOE THE LINE examines issues from two different sides. Both Penn Democrats and Penn College Republicans argue why their collective positions on major political issues is best for the country.
ERIN FARRELL is a College sophomore and the Penn Democrats communication director.
ARI GOLDFINE is a College sophomore and the vice president of Penn Democrats.
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