We are now in the midst of an epic clash between Donald Trump and fired FBI Director James Comey, neither of whom I hold in high esteem, both men with raging egos and questionable motives.
The depth of my contempt differs between the two, but there is contempt for both.
Comey is now making the rounds promoting his new book, which will no doubt be a monster best-seller. Good for him. But Comey for me is a complicated character, a man of honorable service and flashes of horrendous judgment.
His inexplicable handling of the investigations into Hillary Clinton’s emails is unforgivable.
He made reckless and harmful disclosures and proclamations about the Clinton investigation while not whispering a word about the concurrent investigation into the Trump campaign.
He says that the letter he released about a new phase of the Clinton email investigation just days before the election may have been colored by polling suggesting that Clinton was going to win, but that too is problematic.
As Nate Silver tweeted Friday: “If Comey’s decision to release the letter on Oct. 28 was influenced by his interpretation of the polls, that really ought to cut against his image as an honorable, principled decision-maker. Instead, he was just being expedient and trying to save his own hide.”
There were many factors that played into the 2016 election result.
Russian interference. The work of Cambridge Analytica on behalf of the Trump campaign. The exploitation of social media.
The Clinton campaign’s miscalculations. The actual content of John Podesta’s emails. Voter suppression. False impressions given by the polls that Clinton was sure to win.
Racism, xenophobia, misogyny and ethno- and religious hostility disguised as economic anxiety.
But Comey was also in that mix.
While we may never be able to weigh the factors that contributed to Clinton’s defeat and Trump’s victory, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Comey’s actions were part of them.
So please forgive me if I don’t rise in applause simply because Comey’s revelations are giving Trump agita. Nor expect the dampening of my condemnation of Comey because Trump World seeks to defame him.
Then there is Trump, who, in the same week that Comey was on television saying that he could not be sure if the president was in a Russian hotel room with prostitutes peeing on each other, announced that we and a couple of allies had initiated a military campaign in Syria over its use of chemical weapons.
To be sure, the situation in Syria is a humanitarian crisis and has been for years.
The last report on the Syrian death toll by the United Nations came from 2016, when an official said 400,000 people had been killed. The U.N. said at that time it was virtually impossible to accurately verify how many people had died.
In addition, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that there are 5.6 million Syrian refugees and as of July 2016 “6.5 million people, including 2.8 million children, displaced within Syria, the biggest internally displaced population in the world.”
Neither the United States nor the international community has developed a sufficient policy and response to this catastrophe. People simply seem to be hoping and praying that it soon comes to an end and trying to ensure that the fighting doesn’t spill out of Syria’s borders.
The Trump administration, for its part, says that it has drawn a line in the sand on the use of chemical weapons, but that seem to be, at best, randomly enforced.
On Friday, Nikki Haley herself said at the U.N. that “the United States estimates that Assad has used chemical weapons in the Syrian war at least 50 times. Public estimates are as high as 200.”
Furthermore, the U.N. Human Rights Commissioner counts a number of chemical weapons attacks in Syria in 2017 alone, all during Trump’s time in the White House.
Human Rights Watch points out that:
“Government forces used at least 13 types of internationally banned cluster munitions in over 400 attacks on opposition-held areas between July 2012 to August 2016, killing and injuring civilians, including children. The Syrian-Russian joint military operations, which began on September 30, 2015, have also extensively used internationally banned cluster munitions.”
So why was an attack over the use of banned weapons so necessary right now, particularly since it was just earlier this month when Trump was saying he wanted to pull our troops out of Syria and since he campaigned on anti-interventionism?
Again, forgive me if I’m not buying this as a purely humanitarian mission focused on protecting the Syrian people from suffering.
This action and its timing stink. It feels like a legitimate crisis is being used as a tool of distraction, and that to me is unspeakably callous.
So, I see no need to pick sides between Comey and Trump. I dislike the former, but I despise the latter.