In this April 6, 2017, photo, President Donald Trump walks from the podium after speaking at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., Thursday, April 6, 2017, after the U.S. fired a barrage of cruise missiles into Syria. Trump’s White House, one perpetually plagued by infighting among aides jockeying for the president’s ear, has been sharply divided by a new rivalry, one pitting his powerful son-in-law with unfettered access to the president against the sharp-elbowed ideologue who fueled Trump’s populist campaign rhetoric. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Lane: Trump’s Syria bombing: not so humanitarian as it may seem

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By Joe Lane 

joseph-lane@uiowa.edu

Last week, President Donald Trump’s administration authorized a military strike on the airfield from which the recent chemical attack in Syria was launched. The attack, according to a number of sources, resulted in the
deaths of at least 72 people.

The attack was yet another terrible chapter in the ongoing Syrian civil war. Bashar al-Assad’s decision to launch chemical weapons against his own people was such a severe offense that it caused Trump to change his view on the Syrian president: from an acceptable, albeit frustrating, leader to a serious threat to national security and human rights. The attack also led to Trump’s decision to strike the airfield, which Pentagon chief James Mattis has said destroyed as much as one-fifth of Assad’s jets.

In his statement following the bombing, Trump provided two reasons for the strike, one being a matter of national security. In his statement, Trump contended that it is in the United States’ best security interest to “deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.” The second reason Trump claims he launched the air strike has more to do with humanitarian violations.

“No child of God should ever suffer such horror,” Trump said in his brief speech. For Trump to say such a thing, after turning his back on countless refugees trying to escape the civil war in Syria and other parts of the Middle East, is shameful, hypocritical, and downright embarrassing.

Syria’s gruesome civil war has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. According to I Am Syria, a nonprofit media campaign that functions to educate the world about the Syrian conflict, the death toll has now reached 470,000 people — 55,000 of whom have been children. The war is unquestionably a humanitarian crisis.

But for Trump to bar refugees from the United States one day and turn around to attack the country creating the refugee crisis the next is the epitome of hypocrisy. Unless, of course, his real motives for striking the airfield were not in fact related to humanitarian outcry but rather bumping his approval ratings.

The “rally ’round the flag” effect is well-known by presidents and their advisers, a phrase used to describe a short-lived increase in popularity of a president during a time of international crisis. However, a Gallup Poll taken on Monday shows that approval of Trump’s air strike is the lowest of any military strike polled since Grenada in 1983.

The president’s approval rating is historically low. The current well-aggregated poll data from FiveThirtyEight indicates that Trump’s approval rating is an abysmal 40.9 percent. A man who cares so much about what people think of him will undoubtedly pull out all the stops to improve his support. It would not be surprising if Trump feigned humanitarian outrage to gain support for not only his strike but his presidency as a whole.

This cannot be allowed to stand.

Trump has lied enough for political gain. The death of nearly 100 people — several of whom were children — cannot be used by our president to curry favor. If Trump hopes to gain support from the country by fighting humanitarian injustices, he needs to walk the walk as well as talk the talk.

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