Strike on Syria, and Domestic Chaos: The Events of April 6, 2017

Today is one of those days where if you do not have endless hours with which to peruse the news, you might find yourself tempted to throw your hands in the air, bury your head in the sand, and hope that nothing blows up. I’m here to say that you definitely should not do that. Instead, we’re going to break this down.

  • Trump Strikes at Syria: a day after US Ambassador Nikki Haley threatened unilateral action against Syria on the floor of the United Nations, and mere hours after President Trump’s first official press statement on the subject, the United States Navy launched 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian air field. Thus far the only confirmed hits have been equipment. Information about human casualties has not been made available. This act came, purposively, following a chemical attack in northern Syria, in which at least 86 people died, most likely from exposure to Sarin gas. The Syrian government, headed by President Bashar al-Assad has denied responsibility for this attack, though Assad has been accused of using chemical weapons in the past. This is, of course, a breaking story, but several talking points have rapidly emerged. First, the word in Washington is that Russia was warned ahead of the strike– now the question is, by whom, and for what purpose? And finally, when President Trump unilaterally authorized this strike– an attack on a military base of a recognized sovereign state could very reasonably be called an act of war, one that would require the approval of Congress to pursue– did he overstep the authority of his office? While President Obama made several strikes against the Islamic State in his tenure as President, those acts were permissible by virtue of the Authorization for Use of Military Force, which gave the President authority to act as s/he sees fit in the pursuit of known terrorist organizations in the wake of the attacks of September 11th, 2001. Assad’s regime is not a recognized terrorist organization, but one of a sovereign nation. This proved a barrier to President Obama in 2013, when he sought Congressional approval for air strikes in Syria. Congress would ultimately sit on the resolution until it was rendered obsolete. This renders President Trump’s claim yesterday that Obama’s unwillingness to act in Syria led to the chemical attacks both baseless and absurd, but also calls into question the entire legality of tonight’s acts. While President Trump can seek “retroactive approval” from Congress in regards to these strikes, the question remains: what was so urgent that he could not seek such approval ahead of time, when he had time to warn Russia? This question becomes slightly more ironic in light of this tweet, sent out by Donald Trump in 2013:

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  • Senate Goes Nuclear: with a 55-45 vote, the filibuster–both against nominee Neil Gorsuch, and as a tool to force bipartisan consensus–is dead. The moment of the rule change marked the beginning of 30 hours of debate, after which the Senate will initiate the confirmation vote sometime Friday. Amid all of the known controversy surrounding Judge Gorsuch that I discussed in my recent post, it was also recently revealed that he plagiarized parts of his book The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia (2006).  If plagiarism can disqualify a student from admission to graduate school, it should disqualify a nominee from admission to the Supreme Court. Right now, the most important thing that members of The Resistance can do is contact your Senators and tell them to vote “no” Friday.
  • Nunes Recuses Amid Ethics Investigation: after a discussion with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes (R-CA) has temporarily recused himself from the Committee, pending its Russian investigation. He will be replaced by Representative K. Michael Conaway (R-TX). This news comes in conjunction with an announcement that the House Ethics Committee would be investigating whether Nunes made “unauthorized disclosures of confidential information” in his visit to the White House to review documents that prompted calls for his ouster. Nunes denied the charges in a brief press conference, claiming they were “false, and politically motivated.” Upon completion of his written statement, Nunes declined to answer questions.  Paul Ryan voiced support for Nunes’ decision to step aside, admitting that the Ethics investigation could prove to be a distraction in the Intelligence Committee’s probe. 
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping Visits Mar a Lago: finally, on an already chaotic day, Palm Beach, Florida received Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China. Shortly afterwards, and in what appeared to be a well-calculated power play, President Trump landed in Florida as well. Thus far the only clear commentary on the meeting is that it has been pleasant, but one can imagine that the two major topics under discussion are trade, and North Korea. Trump has promised a stronger trade policy after invoking the word “rape” to describe his impression of the present state of trade between China and the United States– commentary that I and others disavow as both tone-deaf and inaccurate in its representations. Tension over those comments, however, may well be put aside in favor of cooperative action in the face of repeated North Korean missile launch attempts in recent weeks. While this could be an issue of concern to the United States and the world as a whole in coming years, do not be surprised if these missile launches begin to be used as points of distraction in the following weeks, depending on the outcome of the air strikes in Syria. It appears the Trump Administration is looking for opportunities to demonstrate its willingness to use force, and North Korea could be presented as such under the correct circumstances.

Before wrapping up, I feel compelled to discuss President Trump’s press conference following the air strikes on a level that has less to do with reporting. The President, speaking much more slowly than usual in what seemed a relatively ineffective means of superimposing gravity, discussed the “tiny babies” who died in the chemical attacks. He is correct to describe these war crimes as an atrocity. That said, let’s not pretend this was any measure of sincerity: this is the same man who created a blanket ban of Muslim entry into the United States not once, but twice in his first hundred days as president. He did not care about the babies dying in the Middle East until they provided a convenient justification for his agenda, any more than his administration cared about rape until they could find one instance of an undocumented immigrant committing a sexual assault and politicize it to validate their xenophobia. If there is anything more deplorable than his overt ambivalence towards everyone other than himself and his inner circle, it is his willingness to feign empathy to advance his purpose.

Finally, it is important to acknowledge that attacks such as these have the very real potential to inspire or justify radical beliefs and acts in response. We have a responsibility to do and be better than this. That said, it is also necessary to recognize that retaliation is a strong possibility– stay safe and stay aware.

— This is the ALF, signing off.

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