What do you do after you’ve agreed to sell $110 billion worth of weaponry to the Saudis, (who are currently bombing Yemen), threatened Iran, and attacked Syria? Answer: You go to the Vatican and pose as Mahatma Gandhi.
That’s what US President Donald Trump has done this week. If anything you’ve got to admire the man’s chutzpah, especially as he followed up his chin-wag with the Holy Father with a visit to the summit of that well-known peace-spreading organization NATO, which only six years ago bombed Libya back to the Stone Age.
The reports were that Pope Francis looked glum after his meeting with the president. Is it any surprise? Last year the two men clashed over Trump’s pledge to build a wall along the Mexican border. The Pope had said Christians should be building bridges, not walls. Actually, Trump has done a lot worse since becoming president.
Millions voted for him in the belief he’d be a peace president. But ‘Trump the Isolationist’ didn’t last long in office. Just four months into his presidency, his hands are already awash with blood. It was reported in early April that in the preceding month Trump had ordered 70 airstrikes on Yemen, twice as many as the 2016 total.
The strikes were purportedly against ‘Al-Qaeda militants’ but in Syria Trump has ordered the bombing of those fighting against Al-Qaeda and ISIS. The past month has reportedly been the deadliest ever for Syrian civilians killed in US airstrikes.
Trump also seems keen to contract out some of the killing to others. In March, he gave the CIA the power to carry out its own drone strikes. That’s like handing out a fresh pair of fangs to Count Dracula, or telling Al Capone ‘You can be in charge of the liquor permits.’
One can’t imagine Pope Francis is too impressed with all of this. But while he spoke out about Trump building a wall at home, he and other church leaders have stayed silent over Trump’s transformation into a war president.
Thousands marched against Trump’s travel ban, but not against his killing of people in Middle East countries. Whatever we think of the immigration rules (and I was against them), it’s surely a far greater crime to bomb people than to deny them entry to your country.
So why such reluctance by Christian leaders like the Holy Father to speak out against US military aggression, particularly when the endless warmongering has had such deadly consequences for Christian communities in the Middle East?
Pope Francis did mention Syria, and Yemen, in his Urbi et Orbi Easter address, but did not say who has been fueling the conflict there. He expressly condemned the “vile attack on fleeing refugees,” which took place on Easter Saturday, but did not say that the act of terrorism, which killed 126 people and at least 80 children, was carried out by anti-government ‘rebels’ who have been armed by the West and their regional allies. Neither did he mention the shameful failure of Western countries to condemn the attack.
We can’t say that it’s because the Church doesn’t ‘do politics’ because it certainly didn’t hold back from criticizing the communist countries of Eastern Europe in the 1980s, even though they weren’t invading anyone.
Perhaps the Vatican fears attack from the neocon war lobby. In September, a group of British peers and Christian leaders met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus. They traveled to Syria to discuss the plight of Christians in the country. They were fiercely denounced by the pro-war MP John Woodcock, a former chair of Labour Friends of Israel, for giving “international pariah Assad” a “photo-opportunity.”
Never mind that the ’international pariah’s’ secular government protects Christians in Syria, and that it’s engaged in a desperate struggle against genocidal fanatics like ISIS. John Woodcock and his ‘regime change’ pals don’t approve of religious leaders going to Damascus, so that’s that.
It’d be nice if the Pope were to take his lead from two courageous Catholic leaders in Syria who did speak out very forcefully when Trump bombed a Syrian government airbase in April. “The agglomerate media and the supremacist policy of the USA just want the killing and destroying conflict in Syria to continue, and this primarily to kill whatever attempt to resolve the bloody crisis,” Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph Younan declared.
Let’s face it: It’s hard to imagine any Western church leader coming out with something as outspoken as that. Instead, all we get is well-meaning platitudes about the need “to end the conflict.”
Of course, we don’t know what the Pope told Donald Trump in private.
But if he didn’t raise the issue of Syria, and US attempts to topple a government that’s defending Christians there or challenge Trump on his gushing support for Saudi Arabia, a country where Christians cannot practice their faith openly, and which promotes the most extreme and intolerant brand of Islam around the world, then it would have been a wasted opportunity. We do know that at the end of their meeting the Pope said to Trump as he gave him a small sculptured olive tree: “It is my desire that you become an olive tree to construct peace.”
Trump replied: “We can use peace.”
We certainly can, but we shouldn’t hold our breath that the Donald will one day soon turn into an olive tree. For all the nice words at the Vatican, those who had hoped that Trump would ‘Stop the Wars,’ must now acknowledge that – barring a genuine political revolution in the US – a ‘Peace President’ is an impossibility. The ‘Deep State’ is too strong. The military-industrial complex is too strong. The Saudi lobby is too strong. The Israel lobby is too strong. The NATO lobby is too strong. Wall Street is too strong. The US system relies on war and conflict. It makes stealth bombers and cruise missiles, not olive trees.
There was real establishment panic in the US when they thought the maverick billionaire property developer would prefer diplomacy to air strikes. Trump was attacked not because the power elites feared that he might take the country into more expensive, never-ending military conflicts, but because they were worried that he wouldn’t.
But every missile he fires, every arms deal he makes with the Saudis, every threat he makes against Iran and Syria, every pledge he makes to Israel, and every bomb he drops on the Middle East, makes him a more secure POTUS.
Talking peace, but waging war. Posing as a fire fighter but acting as an arsonist. Threatening official enemies and then making impressions of Mahatma Gandhi in Rome.
That’s what all US presidents have to do. Whether they’re called ‘George W. Bush’, ‘Barack Hussein Obama’ or ‘Donald John Trump.’ The problem is not with the individuals; it’s with the machine.
By Neil Clark