This Week in Politics and Resistance is a new feature on Flavorwire. It’s a consolidation of the work we started with our Daily Engagement column, which have been running (as the name suggests) daily since the election. This new feature is aimed at keeping people abreast of what’s going down in politics throughout the week — and hopefully helping readers feel somewhat less helpless and hopeless (or at least in control of their helplessness and hopelessness) in the midst of a political news cycle that’s ceaselessly awful.
Chemical Attack in Syria
Tuesday saw the worst chemical weapons attack in Syria since 2013 (then, over a thousand people were estimated to have been killed with the poison gas sarin outside of Damascus, after which Assad vowed to cease the country’s chemical weapons program). But on Tuesday, over 100 people (including 11 children) were killed and over 500 wounded in an attack in Khan Sheikoun in Idlib Province that the U.S. and most European countries have pinned on Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad’s government. Not long after the apparent gas attack, a rocket hit a hospital where victims were being treated.
British Syrian doctor Rola Hallam spoke with Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman; she described how she understood that victims showed signs of “exposure to a nerve agent…found to be either comatose, not breathing, foaming at the mouth, having spasms, vomiting,” and called Syria a “circus of death,” also noting attacks on 340 medical facilities in the country. “When it becomes normal to target and bomb hospitals and use it as a weapon of war, when it becomes normal, after countless resolutions in the United Nations banning the use of these agents of mass destruction, then what happens next?” she asked.
The attack came as the Trump Administration was in the midst of switching its tack on Syria to solely target the Islamic State, with Exxon-CEO-turned-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson apparently giving Assad a pass. The Daily Beast Wrote earlier this week:
The “longer-term status of President Assad,” Tillerson said, “will be decided by the Syrian people,” a euphemism used by Damascus, Moscow, and Tehran to indicate that he isn’t going anywhere.
Though the White House condemned yesterday’s atrocity (with Trump calling it “horrible, unspeakable”), Trump said of Assad (who’d certainly done plenty of “horrible, unspeakable” things already) prior to the November election, “I don’t like Assad at all, but Assad is killing ISIS. Russia is killing ISIS and Iran is killing ISIS.”
The Trump Administration also blamed the chemical attack on the Obama Administration’s “weakness” as much as he did Assad, releasing the following statement:
Today’s chemical attack in Syria against innocent people, including women and children, is reprehensible and cannot be ignored by the civilized world. These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the past administration’s weakness and irresolution.
“The irony,” writes Ishaan Tharoor in the Washington Post, “is that Trump’s position on the Syrian conflict isn’t that far removed from Obama’s — although it’s more conspicuous in its indifference to the plight of Syrian refugees.” Obama had advocated for Assad’s departure, while avoiding too much intervention against his government, particularly after Assad claimed to have done away with chemical weapons; he also, notably, didn’t try to prevent all refugees from entering the country for 120 days; yesterday, the Trump Administration had not expressly stated they’re concerned with Assad abdicating his rule. “You get the impression that Trump has decided to brush it all aside in favor of aggressive posturing and a steady escalation of the military campaign against the Islamic State,” Tharoor adds.
Any measure taken of course has severe stakes here; American’s many ineffectual military interventions in the Middle East have led to massive amounts of civilian death, and often catalyzed further disarray. (The U.S.-led airstrike in Mosul, for example, killed 200 civilians a little over a week ago.) And the Syrian Civil war is one of the most complicated crises imaginable (Al Jazeera has a good explainer) — and Trump’s displays with foreign policy thus far don’t leave much hope for dealing well with complication.
That said, what’s going on in Syria has been dubbed by the U.N. as the “worst humanitarian crisis of our time.” Even former presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, the least war-mongering/interventionist candidate around, declared during his campaign that Assad needed to be phased out in order to restore peace. A day before the attack, the EU came to a general consensus that peace could not come with Assad as the ruler. As reported in the Guardian, the French foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, said, “France does not believe for an instant that this new Syria can be led by Assad.” Today in the UN Security Council, Britain, France and even the U.S. called for an investigation into the attacks — Russia, however, deemed this “unacceptable” — which could, if Trump decides he’s finally going to come out against Assad, lead to tensions in that, erm, relationship.
What’s undebatable is that it’s particularly infuriating that Press Secretary Sean Spicer declared, yesterday, “What we need to do is to fundamentally do what we can to empower the people of Syria to find a different way,” given what we know about this administration’s views towards “the people.” This “empowerment” talk comes from the very administration that has attempted to prevent all refugees from the region from seeking shelter in the U.S. — one very immediate way to help the Syrian people, you know, not be slaughtered by their government in apparent war crimes.
What you can do:
— According to the L.A. Times, the 9th circuit court of appeals will look into the Hawaii judge’s ruling that blocked Donald Trump’s (Muslim) Travel Ban 2.0, which called for a blanket ban on refugees for 120 days. It seems they’ll hold a hearing in May; if they don’t find the ban’s policies ultimately illegal, it’d be reinstated — so be on the lookout for news about this in the next month, as the absolute last thing this country should be doing is banning some of the most traumatized — and internationally unaided — people in the world; if this gets reinstated, there will surely be petitions to sign and protests to attend. It’d be especially egregious if Trump decides to augment intervention tactics on behalf of the Syrian people while maintaining his current tenor about refugees in America.
— Donate to the White Helmets, donate to the White Helmets, donate to the White Helmets. They’re there to help after just about every atrocity in Syria. According to one member, rescue workers hadn’t known about the apparent presence of deadly chemicals on reaching the site, and up to five were therefore exposed to it; donating equips them with the tools they need to do their work as safely as possible.
— The international children’s rights organization, Save the Children, called for “an immediate impartial investigation into this attack and an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council to agree next steps.” Donate to Save the Children’s Syrian Children’s relief fund.
— Donate to Syrian Relief and Development, a “nonprofit organization providing humanitarian aid to Syrians affected by violence, hunger, poverty, injury and displacement.” Read co-founder Jomana Qaddour’s excellent Washington Post piece about the power of grassroots organizations in Syria.
— Donate to the International Rescue Committee, which released a notice condemning the attack yesterday. The statement notes that the organization has provided “health care, education, job skills training and other vital support in Idlib, and last year reached nearly 400,000 people there with aid.”
Trumpcare 2.0 — or as New York Magazine refers to it, “Zombie Trumpcare” — is, shocker, facing some of the same issues that the recently-declined inane healthcare bill collab between Paul Ryan and the Trump Administration had. The new plan, now fronted by Vice President Mike Pence, is similar to the first — except that it’s worse.
While the first plan attempted to mollify both Dems and Republicans through tactically keeping some of the framework of Obamacare (but stripping it of its meaning and efficacy in helping the poor…not die), the new plan does away with one more key component of the Affordable Care Act: It would let states decide if they want to waive the Essential Health Benefits rule (which insists that insurers cover services like mental health, emergency services, hospitalization, maternity care, and prescriptions) and the community ratings rule (which is the element of the ACA that largely prevents insurers from fucking over people with preexisting conditions by raising premiums; with the community rating, insurers must charge the same amount to people within particular age brackets). According to Time, Pence and other Republicans aim to present a draft to the House this week.
What you can do: Though Salon says the bill is in shambles and New York magazine declared it likely dead, Pence is allegedly pushing to introduce it later this week, to bring to a vote by Friday. Since now is really never the time to get too smug, it’d be wise to call your representatives asking them to oppose new legislation that seeks to undermine the Essential Health Benefits and community ratings rules in an attempt to repeal Obamacare. 5calls has a script with which you can do so.