Donald Trump

Trump's Dangerous Syria Missile Strike

The rush to war in Syria will do more harm than good.

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The images were gutting. Silenced children and crushed families in the aftermath of Tuesday's deadly chemical weapon attack in Syria's Idlib province.

These are also the sorts of images that leave us repeating "never again," that all but audibly demand a more substantive response than words.

President Trump responded the following day with a 59-missile strike on a Syrian government airbase after announcing he was considering military intervention. The slaughter, which claimed more than 80 lives, was an "affront to humanity," Trump had said on Wednesday. "These heinous actions by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated."

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said moves toward Syrian regime change are "underway."

The Trump administration's steps toward military intervention have received support from expected quarters. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Thursday called for the U.S. to ground the Assad regime's air force, while Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) made explicit his case for regime change. "Bashar al-Assad must ultimately go," he said, suggesting a large-scale invasion of Syria may be necessary because "we cannot be safe as long as the Assad-Iran-Russia axis is in charge" in Damascus.

On the other side of the aisle, Democratic congressional leaders (implausibly, given this administration's escalation in Syria) criticized Trump for putting the U.S. on the "sidelines," suggesting his overtures to Assad's allies at the Kremlin enabled this attack. Now, they argued—differing in tone but not in goal from their GOP counterparts—it is time for the U.S. via the U.N. to intervene.

Missing in all this is even a trace of realism and reason.

The impulse to intervene is more than understandable in the face of such violence, but if the last decade and a half of foreign policy failures tell us anything, it is that the road to Raqqa is paved with good intentions.

A well-meant desire to insert the full might of the American military into the chaos of Syria is no guarantor of successful regime change. No serious person can promise such a simple triumph, not now, 14 years after our intervention in Iraq and ouster of another cruel and ostensibly secular Mideast dictator. As much as we might wish it, U.S. intervention cannot even bring the promise of fewer civilian casualties than would accrue without our presence. And the lesson of the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Libya is that a U.S.-fostered power vacuum may even make Syria's suffering worse.

Beyond these heavy practical considerations are issues of grand strategy and legality. As Michael Brendan Dougherty notes at The Week, the primary question we must ask after the Idlib attack is not "'Must this be stopped?' We know the answer to that question: Of course it ought to be."

No, the primary question, the conservative columnist correctly argues, is should "the emotion generated by these pictures elicit our consent for the United States military, under President Trump, to intervene even more aggressively on behalf of al Qaeda in Syria, under the legal authority of a 2001 act of Congress declaring war on al Qaeda?"

This is, in practice if not in rhetoric, what the bipartisan Washington establishment has hurried to demand. Regime change in Syria as currently conceived is an executive war of choice, launched without constitutionally-mandated congressional authorization and serving as de facto assistance to rebel groups marked by their uncertain ideology and shadowy ties to the perpetrators of 9/11.

We need not concede an inch of moral approbation to the Assad regime to recognize these very real complications the regime change narrative ignores. Trump once made that distinction himself. "What will we get for bombing Syria besides more debt and a possible long term conflict?" he asked on Twitter after a far deadlier chemical weapons attack in 2013. "Obama needs Congressional approval" for military intervention, he added.

Trump was right on both counts: What is happening in Syria is appalling, but that does not mean U.S. military intervention is the prudent response for America or Syria. As things now stand, there are simply too many unanswered questions and unaddressed risks. The likelihood of long-term occupation and stymied nation-building, as well as the possibility of mission creep into armed conflict with Iran or Russia, are chief among them. Does anyone believe Syrian civilians will be safer if their country becomes a theater of U.S.-Russian war?

Trump in 2013 was right about congressional approval, too, and he must subject himself to the legal limit he sought to impose on his predecessor.

There is no coherent case to be made that war on the Assad regime is in any way permitted by the 2001 or 2002 Authorizations for Use of Military Force (AUMFs) already stretched too thin to justify current U.S. actions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria (against ISIS), and Yemen.

If President Trump wants to launch what is indisputably a major new war, he must do so only at congressional debate and behest.

There is no easy fix for Syria's tumult and misrule, contrary the facile rush to war with which much of Washington has responded to this new chemical attack. Rash reaction may be tempting, but prudence demands we learn from foreign policy mistakes past to avoid yet another headlong sprint into what is certain to be a costly, lengthy intervention that may—for all involved—do more harm than good.

Photo Credit: Polaris/Newscom

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  1. Maybe he is not starting a war.
    Maybe he is saying “anytime you use a weapon of mass destruction, you will lose an airfield”.
    And maybe, just maybe, that will stop the use of weapons of mass destruction in Syria.

    1. By who?

    2. Plus Trump gets the Neocons and top Dems to roll over. At least for today. And a message is also sent to Xi Jingping, chilling in the Mar a Lago dining hall. Win win win. Atlantic commentators are loosing their shit over this.

      1. Atlantic commentators are loosing their shit over this.

        That’s the real victory here.

      2. It’s nine-dimensional chess! Scott Adams said so!!!!!!

    3. And maybe, just maybe, that will stop the use of weapons of mass destruction in Syria.

      So 59 Cruise missiles and $94 million dollars later that’s what we have to show for the latest assault on a sovereign nation in which the United States has no strategic interest? “Maybe, just maybe”?

      1. The US has strategic interest in not allowing free use of chemical weapons.

        1. When the Chief Executive wants to bomb someone who in the foreseeable future is unequivocally no imminent threat to the United States, the People of the United States, through their Congressional representation, have an interest in debating and then permitting or not permitting such action.

          Recall the last time a President wanted to go drop bombs on Assad’s military, Congress was inundated with calls telling them Don’t you dare allow this. Surprisingly they listened.

          Actually that’s probably why the question was not put forth.

          1. One more reason: then, it was a black guy in charge of the WH, and Republican did not want him to do what he had warned against, thereby showing how impotent he was.

            Guess they showed him

            1. Shouldn’t your screen name be “Racecard” instead of “Redcard”?

              1. Nah, you racist fuck!

    4. I’m pretty sure cruise missiles fit the definition of “weapons of mass destruction” so…

      1. I am pretty sure you are wrong. Cruise missiles are not considered wmd.

    5. I’m pretty sure cruise missiles fit the definition of “weapons of mass destruction” so…

    6. Maybe he’s just saying that, if you send your Archduke to our capital, he’ll get assassinated.

    7. Prediction: the chemical weapons attacks won’t stop.

      Instead the continued ‘aggression’ from ‘Assad’ will be used as justification to put troops on the ground.

  2. prudence demands we learn from foreign policy mistakes past to avoid yet another headlong sprint into what is certain to be a costly, lengthy intervention that may?for all involved?do more harm than good.

    Prudence demands we sit back and wait until bombs are falling on our heads? That would make you happy, wouldn’t it? People being killed in the US because we’re too spineless to stop them over there. Useless peaceniks like you are the problem.

    1. Assad will pivot to the US after he is done with his civil war in a destroyed country and military in tatters?

      1. Syria’s number one export will be terrorists. And Iran would be only too happy to lend them some kind of nuclear device to set off on US soil. It’s like you can’t even think about the future past what’s happening right now.

        1. Sure, if Iran has a death wish.

        2. funny, before the civil war we use to give assad money to rendition terrorist to his prisons.. he’s really not that big on the suicide bombers types.. syria will definitely become a terrorist state if assad falls and Muhaysini and jolani get a run of the place

        3. I hope this is snark.

          If it is supposed to be serious you are posting in the wrong place. Also, there is zero evidence that if we don’t “fight them over there we will have to fight them here.”

          I am willing for you to give some examples of Iranian or Syrian attacks on the US homeland, or that they have any inclination to do so.

          1. Sorry, I just don’t have the crazy paranoia or whatever it is to do a proper imitation of John. If he were here I’m sure we be treated to some high quality ranting.

            1. That’s fair.

        4. How about a travel ban?

  3. On a positive note, now that Trump has started a war all of the sniping between cosmos and yokels has stopped. We can all now voice a universal opposition to this action.

  4. The dangers are not hidden. They are out in the open for evaluation. As are the dangers of not responding.

  5. I voted for Trump and yes I got fooled again!

  6. As someone explained to me “If we did not react to this chemical attack then chemical attacks would become the norm” thus this strike was necessary even though the U.S. was not in danger. I’m contemplating this but it is a valid argument however I think the cat is already out of the bag when it comes to the actions that tyrants will take.

    1. Are you calling Trump a tyrant?

  7. Things do not add up. If a gas bomb is dropped from an aircraft, the bomb would be detonated above ground. The gas would disperse along a long path. It would have affected more than 80 people per detonation. If the bomb struck a building, the damage would be limited. So, if Assad’s air force had planned a gas strike, would they have used multiple munitions?

    The airbase targeted, being described as destroyed, should show signs of gas dispersion, unless the Assad air strike used all available gas munitions.

    The Obama Administration declared Assad was stripped of all chemical weapons after the previous incident.

    So either, weapon can be hidden from inspections(Bush may have been right) or Obama was lying or the rebels had a cache. Maybe all.

  8. I like Glenn Greenwald’s assessment on the hypocrisy of Trump.

    “In the last two months, Trump has ordered a commando raid in Yemen that has massacred children and dozens of innocent people, bombed Mosul and killed scores of civilians, and bombed a mosque near Aleppo that killed dozens. During the campaign, he vowed to murder the family members of alleged terrorists. He shut America’s doors to Syrian refugees, and is deporting people who have lived in the U.S. since childhood despite committing no crimes.”

  9. “In the last two months, Trump has ordered a commando raid in Yemen that has massacred children and dozens of innocent people, bombed Mosul and killed scores of civilians, and bombed a mosque near Aleppo that killed dozens. During the campaign, he vowed to murder the family members of alleged terrorists. He shut America’s doors to Syrian refugees, and is deporting people who have lived in the U.S. since childhood despite committing no crimes”. – Glenn Greenwald.

    And Washington is morally superior?

  10. Dangerous? I disagree. THis is a punch in the gut to Assad for being a WMD asshole. It’s saying to Russia–no,
    you do not have free rein in the world: Suck it, Vladimir.I think we just saw Trump do something sincere, something he really believed in, rather than one of his vulgar dumbshit playing-footsies-with-Nazis alt-facts Strongman bullshit campaign shows.
    Maybe the guy is about to get real. Maybe not. I don;’t have any faith in him but if he removes Bannon and Gorka and starts thinking straight, he may end a passable president maybe a C minus or C.
    And, seriously, Congressional approval? When did that ever matter? W got authorization for the biggest foreign policy blunder since Viertnam. Fuck the dumbass travel bans and all the failure. Bomb the shit out of something Assad likes. Seriously. Who cares?

  11. Evidently, however correctly or inversely so, 59 Tomahawks flying hither and yon into the battle voids become the flailing snapping American presidential cock snapping its peevish globby head against the cheeks and lips of the once stupefied and mortified stunned streets of elites into erect salute ever so heel-snapping and thrilled.

    59 Tomahawks ain’t just no big stick- it’s a fucking big black 12-incher spitting cum dynamite into an infinity of pussies, motherfuckers. Watch out, fast boys. Just watch out. 59 Tomahawks made a real estate mogul into a super-duper Prez with biceps the size of Alps and dreams that ain’t been invented yet. 59 Tomahawks just made a goddamn motherfucking president ‘presidential’ in the skewed pupils of the elites. 59 Tomahawks is superman supplement.

    Don’t fucking tell me this story wasn’t written by goddamn geniuses a month ago.

    1. Are you a Beat Generation poet? Your comment has that feel to it.

  12. Unless Assad got their permission before the gas attack, there are probably people in the Russian “Pentagon” saying, “This guy’s finally got to go. We can’t control him, and if he does one more thing, that blowhard honkey in the White House is going to go ape-squat and send in the Marines, and then one of them is going to shoot one of ours or vice versa and then it’s a bright, shiny, radioactive mess!” Who knows, Putin might decide to take Assad out and try to dictate the outcome himself.

  13. WAR. It’s Fantastic!

  14. The strike sent a message to the North Koreans and was a reasonable response to an actor using Sarin gas. I doubt we are going to wade in, in big way. So basically, I don’t see what the fuss is all about.

  15. After reading some of these comments maybe the best thing for this earth is a full blown nuclear war. Then maybe the next intelligent civilized species will be more like the rest of the mammals and will stop trying to destroy each other and the earth.

  16. It may feel good to respond to Assad’s provocation but there is no systematic program for what comes next. Do we turn our attention to ousting Mr. Assad or do we continue to bomb ISIL, even though Mr. Assad will likely attempt to divert attention back to the rebels? The Russians are aparently no longer interested, if they ever were, in fighting ISIL with or without us. Iran won’t be an ally and whom among our Nato allies whom he has criticized and belittled will the Minority President turn to for assistance? Are we now to becom,e like the clown car, backfiring evey time it meets resistence or when the Donald’s personal sensibilities are out-raged, full of soun d and fuiry signifying nothing?

  17. 59 missiles worth some $80 million dollars and the airstrip was left functional with unknown damage inflicted?

    Damn, the free market should be given a chance to do this. Would be waaaaaaaay cheaper, more efficient, and utterly moral.

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  20. Come on guys, Syria would totally be different than Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. If there’s one thing you can bet on, it’s that doing the same thing over and over again leads to different results.

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  22. RE: Trump’s Dangerous Syria Missile Strike
    The rush to war in Syria will do more harm than good.

    Thank God Dear Leader Trump finally hit Syria with a missile strike.
    I’ll bet those Syrian bastards will think twice about dropping bombs on the good ol’ USA.

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