By BILL ONASCH
Hiram W. Johnson, a long-serving Republican Senator from California, is generally credited as being the first to use the phrase “Truth is the First Casualty of War,” in 1917—directed toward the duplicity of Woodrow Wilson. President Wilson, after winning reelection by bragging “he kept us out of war,” a few months later took America in to what he promised would be the War to End All Wars—and won a Nobel Peace Prize for his effort. His lies and reputation are still revered by today’s bipartisan Establishment.
It is unlikely the current liar in the White House will be treated so gently even by official historians. The mainstream media removed their kid gloves even before he took office. Still, that doesn’t mean they deliver the whole truth and nothing but about war.
Just a few days ago, Trump astounded friend and foe alike by announcing he was prepared to accept an agreement to end the bloodshed in Syria that would leave the regime of Bashar al-Assad in power. Past multilateral negotiations had failed mainly because of U.S. insistence that Assad must go.
But Thursday evening, Trump made a brief address to “My Fellow Americans” motivating a missile strike he had launched against Syria. He claimed it was in retaliation for a gas attack ordered by Assad against his own people, resulting in about 80 deaths. Trump described it: “It was a slow and brutal death for so many. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack. No child of God should ever suffer such horror.”
The deaths were real. Whether they were intentionally inflicted—and if so on whose orders—are contentious. But Trump’s touching sensitivity about all children of God was not offered for the 300 civilian residents of Mosul, Iraq—mainly children and their parents—who perished in American bombing of their shelter.
A Syrian air base alleged to have been involved in the gas attack was pulverized by dozens of Tomahawk cruise missiles ($1.5 million a piece plus fuel and labor) launched from Navy destroyers on the eve of a summit with the president of China. Advance warning was given to Russian personnel on the base, who presumably relayed it to their Syrian hosts. Still there were at least 13 fatalities.
The First Casualty principle makes convincing culpability in the gas attack difficult to establish. We shouldn’t forget the outright lie of Weapons of Mass Destruction used by Bush II and Blair to launch the disastrous and illegal Iraq war. You don’t have to be a supporter of Assad to recognize how foolish it would have been for him to so quickly blow off the diplomatic victory Trump had just given him by launching a gratuitous gas attack on a small village.
In the past, the America First Trump rejected a world cop role for the USA. But with stinging defeats for his domestic agenda, bitter infighting within his administration, and alarming drops in opinion polls, he could not resist the temptation to try to rally patriots around the flag, as so many of his predecessors did with mixed results. Among those saluting the Liar-in-Chief was the candidate who finished first in the popular vote last November.
Nothing good comes from the attack on Syria. Regime change in Syria needs to be accomplished by Syrian workers and peasants—not by more foreign bombs and troops.
Whether Trump’s illegal Thursday attack was a one-off stunt or an embrace of the Bush Doctrine, expanded by Obama, remains to be seen. Either way our response should be clear.
Hands Off Syria! Bring All the Troops, Pilots, and Sailors Home Now!