On this week's edition of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver turned his attention to a pretty serious topic: the Trump Administration's decision to bomb Syria. As per usual, the comedian managed to add some levity to the situation — he even brought us back to the 90s by throwing in a good ol' American Pie reference. But John Oliver's segment on Syria also raised some important questions about whether the bombing was part of a larger strategy, or whether Trump has no clue what he actually plans to do about the Syrian conflict.
Oliver confirmed that, indeed, the worst fear of many Americans came true last week: Trump officially got his hands on explosive devices and started using them to intervene in international affairs.
"Yes, a Syrian airfield was bombed by President Trump, two words that, when placed in a sentence like that, are as downright as unsettling as 'ham smoothie' or 'placenta kimono,'" Oliver said.
Speaking of unsettling, Oliver blasted some commentators for using sensationalist rhetoric to describe the air strikes, specifically Brian Williams on MSNBC. Williams touted "the beauty of our weapons," and even felt so moved by the apparent splendor of the military attack that he couldn't resist quoting the late Leonard Cohen.
"What are you talking about?" Oliver said. "This is not a song. It's not a movie. We fired real missiles at an actual country."
Oliver wasn't buying the flowery language, and he wasn't buying Trump's claim that images of suffering Syrian children after a chemical attack last week moved him to act against the Assad regime.
"There is nothing obvious about Trump expressing concern for another human being. I am pretty sure the only time he’s ever thought about a cleaning crew has been to say 'There’s a fingerprint on this vase, don’t pay them this week,'" Oliver quipped.
Regardless of Trump's motivation for the attacks, the consequences, Oliver argued, can be devastating. Dropping bombs may seem like an appropriate response to a massive human rights abuse, but making a split-second decision to intervene in a complex humanitarian conflict that involves multiple international agents can't possibly create sustainable change.
“While it is natural to want to take some kind of action in response, it has to come in the context of a larger strategy or it's close to worthless," Oliver said.
He noted that Syrian war planes carried out attacks from the very air base that Trump bombed just hours after the missiles landed in the region. Jokes aside, Oliver raises some very thought-provoking questions. Trump's decision to respond aggressively to Assad's chemical attack was praised by both Republican and Democratic leaders, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. But taking military action without having a comprehensive strategy in place can be dangerous, especially when the military action made very little difference on the ground, and has the potential to compromise U.S. security.
"Right now we have a president who feeds off praise, and he just got a lot of it for bombing someone." Oliver said. "And that should make everyone very, very worried.”
This is some complicated stuff, with potentially frightening consequences. But at least we have Oliver to ask the tough questions about where these air strikes may lead us.
Images: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver/HBO