10 Apr 2017     home | more politics

Syria, Libya, Trump, Coulter, et cetera

The political news this past week includes the bold and assertive negative response by some in the United States to President Trump's missile attacks against an airbase in Syria. That Germany, the UK, Australia and Canada's prime minister Trudeau supported Trump's missile strike decision didn't deter some from thinking that Trump was off-the-wall crazy or just playing the wag-the-dog game — trying to distract the public's attention — or just trying to gain popularity.

Some of the anti-Trump rhetoric had substance and is still prominent in the media this day, namely the claim that a few missiles do not a policy make. A couple of days ago one pundit responded that rather than be joyful in our excitement about hitting the Assad regime militarily we ought to remember the duller virtues, too, like skepticism, depth and context. (My skepticism has been with all the intellectual jibber-jabber these last six years about talks with the Assad regime.) Some of the opponents of Trump's missile strike have been those the press identifies as at least a few of his alt-right supporters and his advisor Steve Bannon. We can add to this list his supporter Ann Coulter. She tweets that "We know what happens when strong men go and a vacuum of power is left. Even worse people take over." And "I don't care if Assad did it or not, it's none of our business and we shouldn't be policing the world again."

There are those who join her in making analogies with interventions in Iraq, Libya and elsewhere. They claim knowledge that they do not have, and they are addressing issues without any clarifying specificity. Concerning Iraq they assume that it was the intervention itself that was bad rather than the flawed policies involved. They ignore that a state of war between Saddam's regime and the United Nations existed when the Bush administration started his "Shock and Awe" and ground invasion and that Clinton and the Brits had been intervening in Iraq in association with the UN. And some of us think that the Bush administration — Rumsfeld and Bremer — made a mess of things in administering the war. I still remember Christopher Hitchen's support for intervention and his support for the Kurds, victims of Saddam's poison gas attack. My point here is Ann Coulter's grand theory that "worse" things are bound to result from the US intervening in the Mid-East, isn't founded on anything really substantial. It's more blabber. Why not just stick to the particular dynamics of the Syrian situation instead of spinning grand theories about some kind of general law. Sometimes interventions have worked out okey, as they did in World War II, and in Rwanda and the Bosnian war in the 1990s.

Frequently mentioned by the anti-interventionists is Libya. We have a lot of shallow opinion about what has happened in Libya. I don't speak with the kind of certainty the Coulter speaks with her great abstraction about the Middle East, but I do like at least to consider the opinions of those whose job it is to study what has been happening in Libya. One such person is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, Shadi Hamid. As recently at April 12 he has written:

Of course, Libya, as anyone can see, is a mess, and Americans are reasonably asking if the intervention was a mistake. But just because it’s reasonable doesn’t make it right. Most criticisms of the intervention, even with the benefit of hindsight, fall short. It is certainly true that the intervention didn’t produce something resembling a stable democracy. This, however, was never the goal. The goal was to protect civilians and prevent a massacre.

Critics erroneously compare Libya today to any number of false ideals, but this is not the correct way to evaluate the success or failure of the intervention. To do that, we should compare Libya today to what Libya would have looked like if we hadn’t intervened. By that standard, the Libya intervention was successful: The country is better off today than it would have been had the international community allowed dictator Muammar Qaddafi to continue his rampage across the country.

Critics further assert that the intervention caused, created, or somehow led to civil war. In fact, the civil war had already started before the intervention began. As for today’s chaos, violence, and general instability, these are more plausibly tied not to the original intervention but to the international community’s failures after intervention.

I conclude that Trump's critics, of which I am one, should not report with assumptions about his motives. Such assumptions are bad journalism. Trump's critics should not assume that he is incapable of doing anything right, despite his being surrounded by some men whose age, experience and study have made them other than reckless.

Let us support a policy that leads not to just more sweet talk and empty talk. For local communisties in Syria let's support freedom from military attacks from the central government in Damascus and its Russian and Iranian allies.

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