Proportional Response (Weekly Update for 4/3-4/9)

Recent events have been on my mind. Here’s what I posted to Facebook on Friday, when I heard news of Trump’s airstrike on a Syrian base:

Folks, I have some serious misgivings re: the airstrike on a Syrian airbase last night.

My own feelings regarding war have become rather complicated in the past couple years. I was, until a couple years ago, a strict pacifist. After a great deal of thought, I adopted a philosophy of “just war theory,” where war is permissible only under certain circumstances, which include self-defense and proportional response to acts of evil (emphasis on “proportional”).

Our country has a serious problem with proportional response. Al-Qaeda operatives bombed US targets, killing thousands, on 9/11. In response, we wage war in Afghanistan for almost sixteen years, even after we effectively decapitated Al Qaeda. Then, we invade Iraq on the flimsiest of pretexts — doctored photos of WMDs — that leads to a costly and ongoing engagement. So many civilians and US soldiers have died because we had to super-size our response to real and perceived threats.

Last night, in response to the use of chemical weapons, violating international law, by the Assad regime (which has the support of the Russian government), President Trump ordered an airstrike on a military base in Syria. A naive interpretation of this would say that it was a justified, proportional response.

But here are the complicating factors:

  1. The Syrian civil war is, in effect, a proxy war between the US (supporting the rebels) and Russia (supporting Assad). This is very similar to what happened in Vietnam, and we know how that turned out.
  2. Trump’s approval ratings are flagging, and this may be an attempt to boost those numbers.
  3. Trump acted unilaterally, and without the authorization of Congress. The airstrike could lead to something far bigger than a limited engagement, even a capital-W War. Even a polarized, obstructionist Congress should have been given a vote on the matter if it could escalate.
  4. To be frank, I don’t trust Trump’s judgment as a commander-in-chief. He’s a failed businessman who harasses women, who has no foreign policy experience, and who doesn’t like to read. Oh, and he still won’t accept Syrian refugees, despite acknowledging the crumbling conditions in that country.

(Oh, and Trump supporters. Before you say “But Obama did drone strikes!” or “But Hillary–” — as you keep telling us, Trump is the president now. The consequences are on his hands, and the responsibility is his. That goes with the job. As one president put it, “the buck stops here.”)

I sincerely hope this doesn’t lead to something far worse.

In retrospect, I equivocated a lot in the above statement, but this is how I feel. Further intervention would be costly, could escalate the conflict, and may not even be wanted by the Syrian people.

It’s holy week, which means little to a UU, but a lot to a Christian. I find it hard to be invested in passion stories, especially those that cobble together the four accounts in the gospels into something uncanny and stilted. The gospels’ accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus differ in many small ways, simply because they were based on oral tradition. It’s like cobbling together the origin story of Superman using the comics from the 1930s, a two-minute snippet of Super Friends, and the Bryan Singer movie from 2006.

Strip it down to its bare bones, and here’s what you get: Jesus of Nazareth was crucified on orders of Pontius Pilate towards the end of Passover, was entombed shortly after, and his body disappeared two days later. The Romans executed, in a manner reserved for enemies of the state, an iconoclastic faith healer and rabbi during a celebration of the liberation of ancient Israel. I wonder if Pilate intended to send that message, or if he just wanted Jesus dealt with after he antagonized the temple priests days earlier.

The passion narrative has so much baggage — including passages that inspired centuries of anti-semitism — that we UUs don’t address it for Easter. (At my church, we announced our annual flower communion with “rebirth, chocolate bunnies, and fertility”!) I think I’ll be struggling with it for some time yet.

I am so behind on everything. I haven’t gotten far into my reading assignment for book club. I have five stories to critique as soon as that book is done. My bathroom is half-clean because I didn’t get new sponges to replace my old ones until this afternoon.

And yet I’m watching the 1978 Superman film and typing this instead of getting something done. Sigh.