Sunday, April 9, 2017

On the Firing of 59 Tomahawk Missiles into Syria in Reponse to a Chemical Attack



Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, with the connivance of his Russian henchmen, has managed a feat hitherto thought impossible: he has made Donald Trump seem presidential and, even, problematically, heroic. Assad accomplished this prodigy by barrel-bombing Idlib, a city north of Damascus, with weapons laced with poison gas. As a result, recognizably human victims, most of them children, were left strewn all around the site of the atrocity. The carnage converted to TV news and run in continuous loop under warnings about its graphic content, created cartoonish, almost comically vivid, evidence of Assad’s villainy. In effect, Assad created an advertisement arguing in the strongest possible terms for his ouster.

Assad’s crime was not to massacre infants and toddlers. His real offense was to deploy a weapon that left intact relatively unmutilated bodies at the scene of the engagement. Conventional barrel-bombing leaves human beings looking like the scrapings of a slaughterhouse floor after a particularly long and profitable shift. Sarin nerve gas, by contrast, leaves its victims limp, palpably dead, but, nonetheless, human in shape and surface – it transforms its victims into objects of sympathy and not revulsion. By bad luck, Assad’s weapons struck what appears to have been a day-care center for pre-school children in rebellious Idlib. The babies died with soulful eyes wide-open. Pictures of them with mourning parents, or an assembly of the pint-sized corpses lying pathetically like discarded Raggedy Ann dolls in the back of an SUV was too much for the public to bear. Assad’s offense was that he had created scores of highly photogenic corpses.

Ever attuned to the vagaries of PR, Trump was able to distract attention from the paralysis of his legislative agenda, and the partisan cries that he is, in fact, an imposter President, the puppet of Vladimir Putin, by a thunderous riposte about the barbarism of al-Assad in choking out the life of such "beautiful babies." An air strike predictably followed, acclaimed by all but the nay-sayers of the radical right (Rand Paul) and left (Bernie Sanders). Although no one believes Trump, of course, here the evidence supporting his actions was a clear as the proverbial nose on your face – the 24-7 coverage showing the pathetic remains of the murdered moppets. It is ironic, of course, that Mr. Trump’s ordered his military forces into action over little boys and girls that he would have gladly left to die by inanition, fire, and shrapnel without any recourse to haven in the United States – those very same tykes transformed into photogenic corpses and exploited as a basis for the US air strike would have been barred entry into this country as both Muslims and mini-terrorists.



Afficionados of the deeper game may speculate about the timing of Assad’s Sarin-laden barrel bomb strike, a sortie emanating from an air-base on which Russians act as a kind of concierge-service to the tyrant. As rumor has it, Trump is the Siberian candidate, a creature of Moscow. Perhaps, Vladimir Putin perceived his asset careening down the slippery slope to complete fecklessness, even, perhaps, impeachment. The lineaments of Trump’s triumph have long since been submerged in a sea of partisan bickering, his nominations imperilled, and, even, his allies in a state of disarray. A friend fatally gored is no help in time of trial. So, perhaps, something had to be done to shore up the floundering Trump regime. Thus, Assad’s attack and Trump’s response, carefully calibrated to avoid harming any Russian men or material in the theater of engagement.



After the air strike, Nikki Haley, our representative to the United Nations, appeared on the Sunday morning talk shows to praise President Trump’s indomitable fighting spirit. She told her interlocutors that the Tomahawk missiles were hurled into Syria with "rock star" aplomb. I thought this choice of words was peculiar and, even, puzzling.

Based on my experience with rock stars and their performances, I assume she meant that the air strike took the stage an hour or, even, hour-and-a-half late. No doubt the performance had pyrotechnics and was deafening. Was she also hinting that message conveyed by the air strike was drowned out by the decibels just as the lyrics to rock and roll anthems are customarily inaudible when performed? And did she also mean that the military acted in a haze of drugs, more or less indifferent to the consequences of its fusillade of Cruise missiles? A "rock star"-executed air strike would undoubtedly result in civilian casualties not only in Syria, but, also, Kurdistan, Tel Aviv, and, probably, Istanbul.

Why were only 59 missiles fired? I have difficulty believing that Donald Trump called up his generals and said: "Shoot 59 Tomahawks at Syria!" "How about sixty, Mr. President?" "No, a measured response is necessary, use only 59." Isn’t it more likely that the sixtieth missile deployed in this "rock star" attack went seriously awry? But it is unlikely that we will hear about that misfire any time soon.  

April 9, 2017 (Palm Sunday)

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