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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

For the moment, Donald Trump’s bombing of a military airfield in Syria has earned him a measure of success that has eluded his bumbling and malevolent administration during its first three months in office. No doubt he is thrilled by admiring coverage on cable television; by endorsements from voices on the left and right, outraged by Bashar Assad’s latest atrocity against the Syrian people; and by the ultimate distraction from the Russia investigations, the failure of Obamacare repeal, and the ongoing warfare within his White House.

 Whatever Trump’s motives, he was hardly alone in wanting to punish Assad for the chemical weapons attack on Khan Shaykoun. Millions shared the fury that Trump claimed to feel when he saw video of children and infants who died terribly in that village. And the more sober imperative, to discourage the use of poison gas by any regime, is longstanding American policy for good reason.

 But impulsive military action, lacking any strategic plan or even broader rationale, is no more likely to end the Syrian civil war than the lack of action after Assad’s last, and even worse, chemical assault outside Damascus four years ago. Having opposed President Obama’s initiative to punish Assad following that attack, Trump clearly has no idea what to do now that his missiles have landed. Nor do Congressional Republicans, whose enthusiastic support for Trump’s action today rings hollow for anyone who remembers how they rejected Obama’s request to authorize military force in 2013.

 By now, such partisan vacillation about military action is all too familiar, especially among Republicans. In 1999, when Bill Clinton decided to act against Slobodan Milosevic’s incipient genocide against Muslims in Kosovo, nearly every Republican on Capitol Hill denounced his interventionism in the most strident terms.  According to them, the worst war crimes in Europe since World War II were simply not America’s concern. Carping Republicans mounted a series of absurd arguments on the floor of Congress.

If the NATO bombing campaign against Serb forces didn’t achieve surrender within a week, it had failed, they said. If NATO nations weren’t ready to send in ground troops, they should do nothing. And if the West didn’t prevent genocide in Rwanda, Bosnia, and East Timor, then Western nations should ignore catastrophic violence and the threat of a far wider war. Fortunately, Clinton ignored them.

But only three years later, the same Republicans who had opposed Clinton’s surgical policy in Kosovo endorsed a wholesale invasion of Iraq, with calamitous consequences that both the United States and the entire Mideast must endure. It didn’t matter to them that Bush had essentially ignored the United Nations and violated his own pledge to allow UN weapons inspections to be completed before any US military action. Indeed, it didn’t matter that the entire rationale for the war — the supposed existence of chemical, biological, even nuclear weapons in Saddam Hussein’s arsenal — was premised on exceptionally weak evidence.

Worse still, the Republicans permitted Bush to invade Iraq in March 2003 — which he ordered after contemplating regime change there since early in his presidency — without a plausible exit strategy. The war’s advocates promised a “cakewalk,” a chance to profit from Iraq’s oil, an easy war and an easy way out, which many found persuasive at the time, apparently including Donald Trump. We all know how that worked out.

What will happen this time?  It is impossible to predict what kind of policy will be pursued by Trump, whose previous declarations about Syria (and Russia) probably encouraged Assad to think he could escape accountability for any crime he commits. He issued one strident tweet after another, demanding that Obama stand down after Assad’s 2013 gas attack. (Maybe he didn’t look at the videos, or they didn’t show enough children dying.) It is possible to predict, however, that inconsistent actions motivated by presidential emotion are sure to fail. Already the airbase struck by US missiles on Thursday appears to be back in service — and Assad has exercised many other methods of massacring civilians, including tens of thousands of children. Symbolic retaliation doesn’t accomplish much.

So have Republicans — or hawkish Democrats — learned anything from the military and diplomatic history of the past two decades? At least some politicians of both parties appear to understand that rushing into conflict with Russia and Iran — without an international coalition, without any United Nations support, without conclusive proof that Assad perpetrated the chemical attack, without any notion of a strategy to end the war, instigated by an understaffed administration whose commander-in-chief has absolutely no idea what he is doing — marks the first step down a very dangerous road. 

Trump speaking at Londonderry, NH rally

Screenshot from YouTube

Donald Trump once again baselessly claimed on Sunday that the COVID-19 pandemic was "going to be over" soon, just hours after his chief of staff suggested the administration was unable to get it under control.

"Now we have the best tests, and we are coming around, we're rounding the turn," Trump said at a campaign rally in Manchester, New Hampshire. "We have the vaccines, we have everything. We're rounding the turn. Even without the vaccines, we're rounding the turn, it's going to be over."

Trump has made similar claims on repeated occasions in the past, stating early on in the pandemic that the coronavirus would go away on its own, then with the return of warmer weather.

That has not happened: Over the past several weeks, multiple states have seen a surge in cases of COVID-19, with some places, including Utah, Texas, and Wisconsin, setting up overflow hospital units to accommodate the rapidly growing number of patients.

Hours earlier on Sunday, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows appeared to contradict Trump, telling CNN that there was no point in trying to curb the spread of the coronavirus because it was, for all intents and purposes, out of their control.

"We are not going to control the pandemic. We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation areas," he said. "Because it is a contagious virus, just like the flu."

Meadows doubled own on Monday, telling reporters, "We're going to defeat the virus; we're not going to control it."

"We will try to contain it as best we can, but if you look at the full context of what I was talking about, we need to make sure that we have therapeutics and vaccines, we may need to make sure that when people get sick, that, that they have the kind of therapies that the president of the United States had," he added.Public health experts, including those in Trump's own administration, have made it clear that there are two major things that could curb the pandemic's spread: mask wearing and social distancing.

But Trump has repeatedly undermined both, expressing doubt about the efficacy of masks and repeatedly ignoring social distancing and other safety rules — even when doing so violated local and state laws.

Trump, who recently recovered from COVID-19 himself, openly mocked a reporter on Friday for wearing a mask at the White House — which continues to be a hotspot for the virus and which was the location of a superspreader event late last month that led to dozens of cases. "He's got a mask on that's the largest mask I think I've ever seen. So I don't know if you can hear him," Trump said as his maskless staff laughed alongside him.

At the Manchester rally on Sunday, Trump also bragged of "unbelievable" crowd sizes at his mass campaign events. "There are thousands of people there," he claimed, before bashing former Vice President Joe Biden for holding socially distant campaign events that followed COVID safety protocols.

"They had 42 people," he said of a recent Biden campaign event featuring former President Barack Obama. "He drew flies, did you ever hear the expression?"

Last Monday, Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL) endorsed Biden's approach to the pandemic as better than Trump's, without "any doubt."

"The more we go down the road resisting masks and distance and tracing and the things that the scientists are telling us, I think the more concerned I get about our management of the COVID situation," he told CNN.

In his final debate against Biden last Thursday, Trump was asked what his plan was to end the pandemic. His answer made it clear that, aside from waiting for a vaccine, he does not have one.

"There is a spike, there was a spike in Florida and it's now gone. There was a very big spike in Texas — it's now gone. There was a spike in Arizona, it is now gone. There are spikes and surges in other places — they will soon be gone," he boasted. "We have a vaccine that is ready and it will be announced within weeks and it's going to be delivered. We have Operation Warp Speed, which is the military is going to distribute the vaccine."

Experts have said a safe vaccine will likely not be ready until the end of the year at the earliest, and that most people will not be able to be vaccinated until next year.

Trump also bragged Sunday that he had been "congratulated by the heads of many countries on what we have been able to do," without laying out any other strategy for going forward.

Nationally, new cases set a single-day record this weekend, with roughly 84,000 people testing positive each day. More than 8.5 million Americans have now contracted the virus and about 225,000 have died.

Trump, by contrast, tweeted on Monday that he has "made tremendous progress" with the virus, while suggesting that it should be illegal for the media to report on it before the election.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.