Trump’s Militaristic Whim in Syria, Infantilizing Women’s Ambition, and More: Recommended Reading


Here at Flavorwire, we pride ourselves on not only writing excellent content, but also keeping an eye on other great writing from around the web. This may be a predominantly arts/culture-centric website, but given the immediate gravity of U.S. politics, we’ve been focusing this outward-looking post on indispensable political writing, as well as the occasional culture piece.

Donald Trump went from callously underplaying Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s horrific treatment of his own country’s civilians (which amounted in the first chemical attack since 2013 this week, killing over 100 people outside of Idlib) to deciding that dropping bombs on Syria was the only option to oppose the dictator and help Syrian civilians. The latter justification rings false in its purported humanitarianism, given that Trump still hasn’t changed his mind about letting refugees into the U.S. It’s also a decision that Congress has predominantly supported, with reservations — although Trump green-lit the attacks without congressional approval. Here are some of the better-argued pieces to help wrap your head around the airstrike.

Jeet Heer writes in the New Republic:

While Trump is suspicious of experts in fields like science and national-security intelligence, there are two types of specialists he trusts: the very rich (hence all the plutocrats on his cabinet) and men in uniforms (hence surrounding himself with soldiers like Mattis and McMaster, as well as Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly)… But military men aren’t diplomats, and even if they’re personally adverse to war, their training is in finding military solutions to armed conflicts. Combine that with Trump’s mercurial temper, macho posturing, and habit of insulting foreign leaders, and we have a recipe for more instability and more wars.

In the Guardian, Moustafa Bayouami writes:

Trump ended his announcement of Thursday’s strike with the modest goal of ending “terrorism of all kinds and all types.” Good luck with that. Meanwhile, the heart of the problem is that the United States seems always to have only one solution to war: make more war…None of this exonerates the murderous, thuggish and brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad. The moral and strategic imperatives of our world today demand that the Syrian civil war be brought to a swift and just conclusion. And we must recognize that the end of Syria’s civil war will not be found through military means but through careful deliberation between many different parties.

Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman hosted a roundtable about Trump’s precipitous response to Assad’s most recent act of brutality, speaking with Syrian Canadian writer Yazan al-Saadi, The Home That Was Our Country: A Memoir of Syria author Alia Malek, Institute for Policy Studies fellow Phyllis Bennis, and CodePink cofounder Medea Benjamin. The debate is prefaced:

We continue our roundtable discussion on Syria after the United States carried out a missile attack on a Syrian airfield, saying it was a response to a chemical weapons attack that killed 86 people, including at least 30 children. Syria denies carrying out the attack. “Both these superpowers … do not give a damn about Syrian self-determination nor justice for Syrians,” says Yazan al-Saadi, a Syrian-Canadian writer who joins us from Beirut. “We do want something that will be positive for the Syrian people,” adds Medea Benjamin, cofounder of CodePink. “That means immediately lifting of the Trump ban on Syrian refugees coming to the United States, of funding of the $5 billion that the U.N. says is desperately needed to help the humanitarian crisis facing the Syrian refugees, and demand that the U.S. work with Russia to finally come to a ceasefire and work for a political solution.”

In the Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf emphasizes that Trump didn’t go through Congress, which was something that’d been mandated under Obama:

Every legislator who has expressed the belief that it would be illegal to strike Syria without their permission should start acting like they meant what they said. The alternative is proceeding with an unbowed president who is out of his depth in international affairs, feels entitled to wage war in ways even he once called illegitimate, and thinks of waging war as a way presidents can improve their popularity.

Ann Barnard writes in the New York Times about the conditions/mindset under which Assad might have decided to use chemical weapons in a similar attack that killed over 1000 people in 2013. She suggests Obama’s inaction after having drawn, and then not acted on, a “red line” for chemical weapons may have given Assad a green light:

Critics of President Barack Obama, including President Trump, say that his decision not to enforce his “red line” on chemical attacks in 2013 convinced the Assad government it could get away with anything, and that it has been escalating its harsh tactics against civilians ever since…Since that “green light,” wrote Jihad Yazigi, an opposition-leaning Syrian economist, “Assad knows that a large-scale attack against its civilians is a short-term public relations liability but a long-term political asset.”…That was only reinforced, critics say, by recent statements by American officials that it was time to accept the “political reality” of Mr. Assad’s grip on power.

New Yorker writers offered up their first thoughts. Dexter Filkins’ short-argued opinion differs from those above; he writes, “Now, for the first time, Assad is paying a price for the crimes of his regime. Thursday’s missile strike does not appear to be intended to overthrow the Syrian government so much as simply to punish it. The overarching aim of Trump and his advisers appears to be to reëstablish a deterrent against the use of the most terrible of weapons.” Robin Wright rebuts this logic, arguing:

It will not significantly alter the military balance. It will do virtually nothing to assist rebels fighting the regime. Syria has several other airbases, dozens of warplanes, and additional capacity to strike opposition areas…Nor does the strike resolve a much bigger question: what to do to end the most gruesome civil war in the modern history of the Middle East and the worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War. Every major player involved, directly or indirectly—from the United States and the Arab regimes opposed to Bashar al-Assad to Russia and Iran, the Syrian leader’s main backers—has said publicly that there is no military solution.

NPR rounded up responses from other countries.

Meanwhile, the Onion released a rather pointed satire earlier today, spoof-quoting the president saying, “Based on intelligence we have received over the past several hours, the attack on the al-Shayrat air base in Homs has successfully eliminated all discussions and allegations about my administration’s ties to the Russian government.”

Over at the New York Review of Books, Francine Prose has an essay about everyone’s favorite new miniseries Big Little Lies, which ended its seven-episode run on Sunday. Titled “Sex and the City in Hell,” the piece insightfully pinpoints the pleasant surprise of the series, namely, its subtle yet persistent refusal to pander to viewers who crave the TV equivalent of a late-night pint of ice-cream — “highly enjoyable, as long as one doesn’t think too hard or deeply about what the series is telling us.” She continues:

What are we meant to conclude about the sexual experiences of women when we realize that two out of four of these smart, beautiful women have been—or are being—abused? Perhaps it’s a sign of the times in which we live, that something intended to be a frothy, sexy Sunday night entertainment (it has been described as “darkly comic”) should turn out to conceal a message about the prevalence of overt and hidden violence against women. After all, we have a president who has boasted about grabbing women by the pussy. It’s hard to keep reality from breaking through the pleasurable fog of escapist TV.

Businesses have been straining to fit their public relations efforts into the politically fraught moment ushered in by the Trump presidency, as evidenced by Pepsi’s tone-deaf ad, both released and pulled this week, in which Kendall Jenner joins a protest. At the New Yorker’s website, Jia Tolentino writes, via a review of a new collection of essays called Double Bind, about a similarly frustrating trend: The packaging (and selling) of women’s ambition as cute, harmless, and, ultimately, infantilizing.

Another prominent symbol of female ambition put forward this year is a statue of an elementary-school student: the bronze “Fearless Girl” staring down the famous bull on Wall Street. The statue was conceived by an advertising agency for an investment firm whose twenty-eight-person leadership team contains five women; according to the sculptor, Kristen Visbal, the statue “reminds us today’s working woman is here to stay.” It’s dismaying, and revealing, that this message is most easily conveyed through a figure of a girl—her skirt and ponytail blown back in the breeze, cheerfully unaware of the strained, exhausted, overdetermined future that awaits her.