Two big news stories of the last week are the missile attack on Syria and the “mother of all bombs” being used in Afghanistan. The juxtaposition of these stories with the April tax filing deadline is so ironic it demands comment. These two attacks on other countries are classic examples of why we have budget problems. These stories also speak volumes about who we think we are, vs who we actually are, as a society.
The U.S. attacked an airbase in Syria with 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government. Our missile attack was intended to “send a message” to Syria that use of chemical weapons would not be tolerated. But rather than being an effective message, or doing anything about chemical weapons, it appears to be simply a waste of money. Cruise missiles cost over a million dollars apiece. The message sent last week cost us at least $60 million. Yet nothing was accomplished. News reports say the air field is already back in operation. The Assad government is still in place. His military capability was not significantly “degraded.” But we are marching deeper into another Middle East quagmire.
Since missiles cannot speak, one would think it a more effective way to “send a message” would be by TALKING with the opposition. We could have had our ambassador deliver the message ….oh…right, WE DON’T HAVE AN AMBASSADOR IN SYRIA!! We cannot talk directly with Assad’s government. We have a rocky history of on-and-off diplomatic relations with Syria. We closed our embassy in February of 2012. Syria maintained an embassy in Washington until March of 2014 when we kicked them out.
The attack on Syria says more about our lack of a coherent, consistent foreign policy than any message on chemical weapons. We have no coherent plan to help end the conflict in Syria or restrict chemical weapons. We have no follow up strategy to the bombing. We have no unified international support. This action illustrates the hypocrisy of our overly militarized foreign policy. Yes, Syria violated international law by using chemical weapons. But WE VIOLATED INTERNATIONAL LAW by bombing Syria. One wrong doesn’t justify another wrong. It also makes no sense that after 6 years of civil war and an estimated 470,000 Syrians killed that we should be so concerned about 100 more being killed by chemical weapons. When you are dead it makes no difference what weapon was used.
The current administration imposed travel bans on people from some Muslim countries. They closed the country to refugees from war torn Syria. During the campaign Trump said we should stay out of Syria. He did not favor military action to punish the Assad government for earlier use of chemical weapons. DOES ANYONE HONESTLY BELIEVE THAT BECAUSE OF THE RECENT PICTURES OF THE GAS ATTACK HE NOW CARES DEEPLY CARE ABOUT SYRIAN CHILDREN?
Foreign policy is always rooted in domestic politics. I suspect these attacks are about the need to appear “strong.” The administration wanted to create the illusion of doing something even if that action was ineffective or costly. These bombings are a cynical effort to divert attention from domestic problems and create media images of President Trump being a tough guy.
The second story is about the use of the largest conventional bomb in world history in Afghanistan. The Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB), was nicknamed the Mother of All Bombs. It was thirty feet long and weighed 21,000 pounds. This bomb detonated before it hit the ground obliterating everything in a 1,000 yard radius and sending a lethal shock wave more than a mile. Most news reports say the weapon program cost $314 million to develop and each bomb cost $16 million. Other reports say it only costs $170,000 per bomb. The Pentagon is notorious for poor accounting, so who knows the real story.
Reports are that perhaps about 100 ISIS (Taliban, Al-Qaeda, or whatever we are calling them at the moment) combatants were killed. HOW WE CAN ACCURATE COUNT BODIES FROM THIS POWERFUL A WEAPON IS A MYSTERY. Like in past wars the Pentagon is just making up numbers. Once again this expensive weapon appears to have accomplished very little and didn’t change the course of the longest war in U.S. history. After 16 years in Afghanistan we are stuck in a never ending cycle of violence and a never ending waste of our tax dollars.
But war is profitable for the arms merchants. It makes little difference which political party is in charge. We have been bombing in the Middle East almost continuously for 26 years since the first Gulf War in 1991. The situations in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Yemen are not improving. Everyone agrees that there are no military solutions to the civil war in Syria or conflicts in the rest of the region. So why do we think bombing one air field will do any good? Why do we think using a bigger bomb will make a difference?
We like to think of our country as the good guys. We think we promote peace, justice and democracy. But we are known for our military power and not our ability to arbitrate conflicts. We are the largest maker and seller of weapons. We have invaded, destabilized, and overthrown more countries than any other nation. We have a global military presence greater than any empire in the history of the world. And we have refused to cooperate in many efforts to reduce weapons such as landmines and nuclear weapons.
We have a culture that glorifies military action. We consider leaders who use diplomacy to be weak. Robert C. Koehler, a journalist writing in “Common Dreams,” asks important questions we all need to consider.
“Why are the weapons of war the only tools we choose to wield — the only tools we can imagine wielding — against the threat we call terrorism? Why are the multi-billion-dollar agencies of government trapped at such a feeble level of consciousness — war consciousness — that they are able to envision nothing but the wreaking of more destruction to “keep us safe,” when everything about this activity weakens us, endangers us, makes us ever less safe?”
We should send fewer “messages” and do more actual problem solving.