The attack on the Syrian airfield has sent the polls for President Donald Trump into a sharp rise and he has been praised by various Democrats. Others have called for the commitment of thousands of troops. No one seems interested in speaking of the absence of congressional authorization. Indeed, when Sen. Rand Paul objected to the lack of congressional consent, Sen John McCain denounced him as a non-entity in the Senate who does not listens. Below is my column on the mounting attacks on Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D, HI) from Democrats after she called for the release of evidence on the culpability of the Syrian government in the recent gas attack on a village. Even though some (including a recent MIT professor) have questioned the evidence, Gabbard’s desire to see the evidence was viewed as inexcusable. It appears that war, like Saturn, devours its young.
Washington is back to business as usual this week with both parties pounding war drums over Syria and some demanding thousands of troops be sent to expand our latest undeclared war. What is most notable is how fast top Democrats dropped their post-Sanders rhetoric over war powers and have again adopted the pro-interventionist stance embodied by Hillary Clinton.
Before the attack, Clinton was back in public chiding President Trump on how she would have long ago bombed every airfield and started a major campaign against the Syrian military. Not one air field, mind you, all airfields. She received rapturous applause for the comments at the Women in the World Summit in New York.
Indeed, Democrats have turned on a congressional member who had the audacity to ask for proof as a precursor for war. The Democrats have shown once again that a party hell-bent on war will like Saturn devour even its own. However, even if our own history with the Vietnam war or weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is not instructive enough, they might consider Greek mythology before they start to nosh on the kinder.
The fact is that Washington loves wars and neither party wants to be on the wrong side of a popular war. Even for Washington, however, the shift of Democrats is notable from the recent election where everyone — even Clinton, albeit awkwardly — tried to show liberals that they were not the hair-trigger warmongers that Sen. Bernie Sanders’ supporters claimed during the campaign.
Yet, now, leaders are denouncing Hawaii Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbardafter she had the audacity to ask for proof of Syrian responsibility in the recent gas attack. Gabbard seemed to want more than a pedestrian role in war powers, while her colleagues prefer the safety of the sidelines. Playing the witness to wars avoids responsibility while reserving the right to be shocked and angry if the war goes badly.
The attacks on Gabbard “doth protest too much.” Gabbard has previously angered the establishment in Washington for the right and wrong reasons. She was legitimately criticized in January for meeting with President Bashar al-Assad. It was propaganda victory for this murderous dictator and undermined United States foreign policy.
Gabbard’s real sin however may be more political. Many Democrats are still upset with Gabbard for publicly charging (as was later supported by the Wikileaks material) that the Democratic establishment was actively engineering the primary for Hillary Clinton. She then supported Sanders against the establishment. Now, she has the audacity to demand proof before going to a war when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Hillary Clinton are all in support of a new expanded war.
However, her cited statements were surprisingly modest. She objected that the missile strikes were “short-sighted and will lead to more dead civilians, more refugees, the strengthening of al-Qaeda and other terrorists, and a possible nuclear war between the United States and Russia.”
She also called for the administration to release more evidence of Syrian guilt before pouring more troops or missiles into the conflict, adding that “if President Assad is found to be responsible after an independent investigation for these horrific chemical weapons attacks, I’ll be the first one to call for his prosecution and execution by the International Criminal Court.”
The response from Howard Dean and others was shock and disgust. In a Trump-esque tweet, Dean declared, “This is a disgrace. Gabbard should not be in Congress.” Democratic leaders were outraged that a member would be “skeptical” about the action of the United States. Center for American Progress President Neera Tanden called on Hawaiians to dump Gabbard and asked, “People of Hawaii’s second district, was it not enough for you that your rep met with a murderous dictator? Will this move you?”
The Washington Post expressed shock that Gabbard’s statements “reveal her striking departure from the consensus that Assad’s government launched the attack.” However, at least in the initial days, that “consensus” was based largely on the conclusory statements of named and unnamed sources in the government.
The reaction to Gabbard’s call for evidence brings back troubling memories of the Gulf of Tonkin incident. On Aug. 10, 1964, the Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution to give President Lyndon Johnson full authority to go to war in Vietnam without a formal declaration of war. It was based on the Gulf of Tonkin incident involving an alleged attack on the destroyer USS Maddox.
The government reported two attacks that are now considered highly questionable. The government claimed that on Aug. 2, 1964, three North Vietnamese torpedo boats harassed the destroyer. When the Maddox fired three warning shots, the government claimed that the boats attacked with torpedoes and machine guns. The Maddox showed only a single bullet hole.
The government then claimed a second attack on Aug. 4, 1964. Historians have questioned these accounts and most notably former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara admitted that there was actually no response to the Aug. 2 attack and thus no “sea battle” as claimed at the time. He further admitted that the second attack never occurred. None of that mattered of course because few members wanted to hear at the time that these “sea battles” were hokum.
There is every indication that the evidence will support the United States, which has been releasing more information in the last week. It is notable that, while Russia and Syria have called for investigations of responsibility for the gas attack, Russia just blocked a United Nations resolution demanding Syrian cooperation with just such an investigation.
Russia has claimed that a bombing raid hit ISIS chemical weapons and that this is a pretext for the expansion of the war. Yet, Syria has previously used chemical weapons and Russia is now hindering efforts for such an investigation.
In the end, Gabbard is right about the need for the release of evidence before we expand this undeclared war. The administration may indeed be moving in that direction with the leaking of intercepted communications from the field.
Which brings us back to Saturn. Saturn, or Cronus to the Greeks, was obsessed with a prophecy that he would be overthrown by his children — a sense of panic not unlike the Democratic establishment with the rise of Sanders and his young supporters. As a result, Cronus, a Titan, devoured each child when born including Demeter, Hestia, Hera, Hades, and Poseidon.
His son, Zeus, however, was hidden (Rhea, his mother, gave Cronus the “Omphalos Stone” wrapped in swaddling clothes to trick him). Later, Cronus was given an emetic as a trick and he threw up the children. Zeus and his siblings then rose up and overthrew the Titans, including Cronus. For his part, according to Homer, Cronus was left to languish in the Tartarus, or a deep abyss of pain and torment.
For most politicians, the Tartarus is the abyss called life out of public office. However, before the Democrats start to swallow members like Gabbard whole, they might want to consider how the youth can reappear with a vengeance.
Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University.