When we look to our leaders, whether in in our families, in business or at the highest levels of politics, we want to see consistency and clarity. And we want to know that they have thought deeply about the way ahead, and are focusing on clearly defined strategic goals. Right now, it is incredibly difficult to understand President Trump’s true motivation for recently attacking Syria, the message he was trying to send, and his vision for the future of US involvement in Syria. Especially for those of us who served in the military and have fought on battlefields without a clear understanding of why, President Trump owes us a thoughtful explanation of his vision.
Obviously, overshadowing President Trump’s recent military action is the fact that he has already received the all-time lowest approval ratings of any president in his first year and has already faced significant defeats in his administration: he could not bring the Republican party together for health care reform; his National Security Advisor abruptly resigned under a cloud of suspicion; the FBI is investigating whether members of his campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election; and despite his campaign promise, Mexico is not going to pay for a wall on our Southern border. An attack against a vicious dictator killing innocent civilians could be just the thing to raise political support and divert attention from these early administration failures, although a horrible reason to launch 59 Tomahawk missiles. So we have to ask, where is the clear vision around this latest mission and where are we headed?
President Trump campaigned on a platform of “America First” and disentangling our military from the complex issues in the Middle East. Not surprisingly, conservative commentators immediately lambasted him for attacking Syria based on seeing pictures of injured and dead children after Asaad’s chemical attack. Why, after all, would this particular attack by Assad justify such a decisive turn from President Trump’s campaign pledges, and further inject us into the civil war in Syria? Do we have true national security concerns, or were the 59 Tomahawk missiles just a knee-jerk reaction, like a militaristic version of an angry tweet?
For those of us who... fought on battlefields without a clear understanding of why, President Trump owes us a thoughtful explanation of his vision.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has already killed thousands of his own people, and has consistently used barrel bombs, particularly nasty weapons, to do so. But this is common knowledge, and despite these atrocities, up until last week, President Trump did not advocate attacking Assad. In fact, between 2013 and 2014, and even after Assad attacked his own people with chemical weapons, Trump tweeted over and over again at President Obama to not attack Syria. In one such tweet he said, “What will we get for bombing Syria besides more debt and a possible long term conflict? Obama needs Congressional approval.” An excellent point, yet one he clearly has now ignored.
While some supporters of our military attack in Syria think somehow this is a sign of strength, many of us with military backgrounds are very concerned about its repercussions. Will we now attack every time Assad uses a chemical weapon or barrel bomb? (White House press secretary Sean Spicer recently lumped barrel bombs and chemical weapons together, and said it would be in the national interests of the United States to continue to attack Syria if Assad uses either.) Will more of our troops be committed to the quicksand of Syria without a well-defined policy and mission? Isn’t it more appropriate for our allies in the region to take military action? And if saving Syrian civilians from chemical attacks is truly in our national interest, then why won’t we support any refugees who are fleeing an iron-fisted dictator?
Administration officials have already stated that through this attack we are sending a message to world leaders such as Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, China’s President Xi Jinping and North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jung-un. But what exactly is this message? In Trump’s recent attack, we killed nine civilians, including four children. And almost immediately after our attack, Syrian warplanes returned to the site of the sarin attack and dropped conventional bombs, killing more Syrians. Has anything changed besides expending $50 million dollars worth of ordinance financed by taxpayer money?
Perhaps President Trump wants to do something that President Obama never did. Perhaps he is trying to give his Congressional supporters new talking points besides the failed healthcare bill as they head home for the Easter recess. Or perhaps he is gearing up for a significant military engagement. The American people can’t understand his vision unless he takes the time to flesh it out and responsibly present it to us. Too many of our service members have been killed or grievously injured chasing unidentified, unclear and unrealistic goals – let’s learn from our past mistakes and demand a clear mission and end-state.
Justin Constantine is an inspirational speaker, leadership consultant, entrepreneur and a TED lecturer, who serves as a liaison between the military and corporate communities. He is the author of the new book “My Battlefield, Your Office: Leadership Lessons from the Front Lines,” now available on Amazon. A Presidential Leadership Scholar, Justin is also a fellow with the Truman National Security Project. Justin received a Purple Heart for his service in Iraq with the U.S. Marine Corps. To learn more, visit www.justinconstantine.com.