I cannot denounce Donald Trump’s decision to punish Syrian president Bashar al-Assad for his alleged chemical weapons attack on rebels and civilians earlier this week.
In truth, ever since Assad ruthlessly bombarded rebels and residents of Homs and Aleppo several years ago I was in favor of targeted military strikes to educate Assad that actions, particularly inhumane actions, have consequences. I wanted President Obama to issue a warning, and follow through on it, that he would systematically destroy Assad’s palaces, government buildings, and state infrastructure after any attack on civilians. But Obama didn’t, and one consequence of his inaction was the mass flight of millions of Syrians who felt insecure in their homeland, an exodus that has had significant international repercussions.
I am not ordinarily a war monger but I do believe a civilized country like ours has a responsibility to defend and protect the innocent against heartless slaughter or natural disaster, wherever they live. We did so in Bosnia. We did not during the Rwandan civil war. We are failing to do so in the humanitarian crisis of famine in East Africa.
We are not the policeman of the world. But we are the richest and mightiest nation. And the freest. We have some obligations to the rest of humanity.
Donald Trump will discover his actions, his words and those of his administration, have consequences, as well. Assad, it is reasoned, felt empowered to drop chemicals on Khan Shaykhun after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson indicated his removal from office no longer was U.S. policy. Now it may be.
Beyond Syria the military response has implications for our relations with Iran and North Korea. Trump has more than hinted he would unleash American forces to deny both countries the ability to develop nuclear weapons. Will their leaders be more circumspect now that they’ve seen Trump’s trigger finger is primed for action?
Presidents who successfully flex their muscles are apt to do so with impunity until catastrophe reins them in. Trump has all the leadership characteristics of a strong man who demands to get his way. He thinks in the moment. He is impulsive. Long term analysis is not one of his strong points. Nor is adherence to prior statements. Back in 2013 Trump tweeted against military action in Syria, especially without prior congressional approval.
Obama was more strategic in thinking so he deferred military intervention in Syria, North Korea and Iran.
By striking Syria, Trump may have set the United States on a new course of action with as yet unknown consequences.