Dozens of children were murdered by Sarin gas dropped from the air by Syria's government, a government that has gassed its own people repeatedly with the full knowledge and support of Russia. Gas, being a brilliant way to kill a lot of people cheaply while also destroying the human spirit of the few remaining people you need to crush.
In walks Donald Trump: politically embattled, accused of being in the pocket of Russia, looking weak and bleeding support. He gives an impassioned speech about how terrible it is to gas babies (it is) and how the use of chemical weapons anywhere cannot be tolerated by anyone (it can't). Then he launches a few missiles at a single air base where the government who owns the air base has been given plenty of notice to move its people and most significant assets out of the way.*
He looks like a hero, he looks strong and decisive, and he definitely doesn't look like a guy in Russia's pocket.
Now, my best guess is that Trump did this, not because he actually cares about international norms or dead children, but because he needed a distraction and a way to undermine claims of Russian influence that most certainly will come to light when the investigation into his campaign closes. This was the perfect way to do both. And let me reiterate, it was PERFECT. He looks like a hero, it satisfies the very basic human need to punish those who do terrible things and since he gave the Russians plenty of notice about the strike and only hit one small airbase, it does very little to undermine the real political relationship between Trump and Putin.
Yes, there will be sabre-rattling between the two countries. But it's not going to be real. And both leaders will get a boost looking strong in the way they respond to the other guy. Will there be full out war? Not if Trump is smart. He's done his job and won his acclaim and a few more strikes might help in other bad moments, but war isn't necessary to meet his political goals. At least not war with Russia and Syria.
As for the left, a group of people I think of as my comrades, we sucked in our response.
We went from horror at the chemical attack to screaming about illegal war and monstrous overreach by Trump when he launched a few missiles to avenge the poisoned. We claimed the strike was illegal (sure, maybe it was, but, dead babies scorched by Sarin gas....), we claimed innocent civilians were targeted (they weren't), we claimed it was the beginning of all out war with Russia (no evidence of that at all). We yelled that he rejected refugees and if he really cared about Syria, he should have treated Syrian refugees with respect (he doesn't care, clearly, and the Syrian people don't want to be refugees in America, they want to live safely at home, without a butcher at the helm of the army).
What we didn't do, was recognize that the laws banning the use of chemical weapons need to be enforced somehow. And that is only going to work if there is military might behind them. Sure, I wish an international coalition led by Europe was working hard to destroy Assad's air arsenal and remove him from power, I wish there were international sanctions against Russia for assisting this murder spree of the Syrian people, I certainly wish it wasn't Trump who got the credit for finally doing the right thing.
But it was the right thing.
If we continue to refuse to acknowledge that, to fail to point out the clear political failure that let Syria turn into a bloodbath in the first place, to call Trump a warmonger instead of the political opportunist he is, we have failed our movement and this moment.
And we have failed the Syrian people. But, to be honest, that's just more of the same from all of us.
P.S. Some have gone so far as to suggest that the Syrian Army did not actually drop the Sarin gas. This is such a far-fetched claim I can only assume they have been captured by Russian propaganda media. It also is ridiculous to suggest we should wait years for an investigation before deciding to punish Assad for this criminal act. That wait and see and negotiate strategy is what Obama did, and it clearly didn’t work.
* My claim about the length of notice, is pure conjecture on my part. But reports of no injuries from the bombing suggests it wasn’t last minute notice.