Thursday night, President Trump made a monumental decision to call off a strike against Iran. After they shot down an American drone Monday, the president said that such a reaction was “not proportional” after learning it would lead to the deaths of around 150 people.
Without a doubt, Trump’s decision was a good one; not killing 150 people is radically better than killing 150 people. But this alone is a far cry from a heroic act and does not clean the blood that already stains his record.
….On Monday they shot down an unmanned drone flying in International Waters. We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General. 10 minutes before the strike I stopped it, not….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 21, 2019
A Record of Blood
Two years ago, Trump launched missiles at a Syrian airbase. The Syrian government, shortly after, reported the deaths of nine civilians and seven soldiers. To Trump, this was inconsequential; the world saw no apology for the loss of life he directly caused.
The following year, a Saudi-led coalition that the Trump administration has continually aided (so has Al-Qaeda) killed a bus full of schoolchildren in Yemen. Nearly 50 died while going to summer camp in the morning. Though not as direct as the Syrian incident, it’s still fairly obvious that the lives of foreigners are not the first things on the president’s mind. Saudi relations were more important. Not long after, in the early months of 2019, the Saudi coalition (still funded by Trump’s regime) struck again, this time bombing a hospital, killing doctors and patients alike.
Of course, let’s not forget that while all of this has been going on, the Afghanistan death toll only steadily rises. By sending troops in, year after year, the president has caused the loss of tens of thousands of lives.
President Trump is not a pacifist and not a noninterventionist; he just happened to make the right decision this time around.
No Hero for Iran Inaction
In spite of this, some may claim that the president is now turning things around with Iran. Distancing himself from hawkish advisors such as John Bolton, Trump is the hero of the hour. But though we do appear to be moving in the right direction, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.
It’s no secret that Trump’s action is unparalleled in recent American foreign policy. Going back as far as the Gulf of Tonkin, needless pushes towards war have permeated public policy. Post-Vietnam, the Bushes, Clinton, and Obama never missed an opportunity for military intervention. So, maybe Trump really is onto something.
Regardless, it’s too early to get our hopes up and not a move worth calling heroic. Essentially, this boils down to the fact that Trump could have killed people, and was about to, but then decided against it. Though it may be mercy or strategy, it’s a far cry from legitimate goodness.
If a known killer puts a gun to your head and then decides not to pull the trigger, they aren’t a hero. Of course, they’ve done a great thing by keeping you alive. However, that act does nothing to eradicate past wrongdoing. It doesn’t make things any worse but doesn’t make them better, either.
Goodness is a positive trait. In order to reach it, you must do something, rather than not do something. Inaction is not an excuse for goodness, but that’s all Trump has done; he chose not to do something awful and now is getting recognition for doing something great.
Why is it, then, that we look at Trump through a different lens? Are we so used to the oppression of constant warfare that a lack of murder appears to us as heroism? Has his abhorrent record caused us to forget the years of consistent wrongdoing that have plagued his career?
Not killing people should be the baseline of humanity, not some lofty aspiration. Unfortunately, we still aren’t there yet. This hasn’t been a reality for a long time among U.S. presidents. Arguably, it never really has been, but that still isn’t an excuse to lower the standards of human decency.
President Trump still has some close ties with Bolton, Mike Pompeo, and other neoconservatives in his cabinet. He still is involved with military conflicts on several continents and still is not a peace advocate. He has taken a baby step forward. Though it deserves some credit for the Iran move, he has a long way to go to absolve his record of war and conflict.
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