Let’s All Do the Cruise Missile Mambo

The more I see and read about the missile strike on Syria Friday night, the more convinced I am that it was all just one big choreographed dance, each party to the conflict dutifully and predictably doing their prearranged steps. Call it Dancing with the Porn Stars, or perhaps Operation Desert Stormy.

Yes, I think it was all for show. And every country and most commentators on the subject are just playing a big game of “let’s pretend.” Let’ run down the performers and the roles they played.

Donald Trump.

He gets to act like the tough guy, which is his default setting. And he gets to take attention away from Stormy Daniels, Michael Cohen, Robert Mueller and James Comey, if only for a day or two. He gets to pretend that he gives a damn about those poor innocent victims of Assad in Syria, but who could take that seriously? If it was really about saving Syrians from the government killing them, why is the focus only on chemical weapons? A few thousand people have been killed by chemical weapons in that civil war, while hundreds of thousands have been killed by conventional weaponry and we’ve raised not a peep of protest. In fact, it was only a few days ago that Trump was saying we were pulling out, leaving the rebels at the mercy of Assad. And if he actually gave a damn about Syrian victims, he would admit them as refugees to this country instead of calling them terrorists and being a demagogue about it. So he pretends to be both tough and the voice of moral outrage; both are a joke.

Russia and Iran:

They both get to pretend to be outraged by this unprecedented attack on Syrian sovereignty when neither one has ever given a damn about sovereignty when it suits their interests (just like us, of course). But in truth, they’re both thrilled that we only bombed a few facilities with almost no one in them. Hell, we told Russia ahead of time where we were bombing and when to make sure we didn’t escalate the conflict with them, and that was the right thing to do. The last thing any side wants is for this to blow up into a real war involving us, Russia and Iran. So everyone rattles their sabers while privately updating the others to make sure we’re staying out of each other’s way.

Trump’s critics:

But perhaps my favorite bit of nonsense in all of this is the constant refrain from Trump’s critics that he has no real strategy in Syria. They’re absolutely right, of course, he’s flying by the seat of his pants and acting without any thought. Absolutely true. But the pretense here is that there is, or could be, some grand strategy that would fix the situation in Syria. Clue time: There isn’t. Not without risking a wider conflagration and getting involved in a real war, which no one except maybe John Bolton wants.

Russia is backing Assad because they are not willing to give up their warm water naval base there. Iran is backing Assad because of their business dealings and religious affiliation with him. Neither is going to withdraw that support and we know that. And we aren’t willing, nor should we be willing, to go to war over it and make them leave. That would blow up into a region-wide war and invariably suck in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Israel. Even the best case scenarios would make that a disaster for all involved. It would be World War III, but in the Middle East rather than Europe. And everyone knows it. So it’s all a big standoff where we all pretend to want to fix it but know we can’t.

So the dance goes on. Everyone pretends to have the moral high ground when no one actually does. Everyone pretends to want peace when no one does, while threatening war, which no one wants. And Americans still need to figure out that we can’t just snap our fingers and make the world the way we want. And when we try to do that, the result is usually a disaster. So I’m glad the generals talked Trump into showing restraint. But I wish we’d just stop with the disingenuous nonsense. We don’t need to participate in this dance at all.

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