Friday, April 7, 2017

On Trump's Missile Attack on Assad's Syria

I don't have the answers on how to address the Syrian catastrophe. But I remain singularly unimpressed by the comments and observations of most political (and military) commentators. It's as if they just want airtime and to hear themselves talk. And that includes Fareed Zakaria, whom I usually appreciate, and 18-star former general Barry McCaffrey (no, he doesn't have 18 stars but he talks as if he thinks he does).

Do I approve of President Trump's limited response to the Assad regime's use of sarin gas. Yes. Do I know why Syria used that banned weapon? No. As Ian Bremmer noted tonight, we can't even be positive that Assad himself ordered the attack although I don't care since he was to have eliminated such weapons previously and his regime has used them before.

Do I know with certainty why Trump changed his mind and attacked, given his strong statements in 2013 demanding that Obama not militarily retaliate then for Assad's gas attacks and Trump Administration statements just in the last ten days indicating that Assad's position in power was not our concern. Was this a wag the dog situation in which Trump is trying to distract from investigations of possible coordination or collusion between Putin and Trump to rig the 2016 elections in Trump's favor? Is this an attempt to give a message to North Korea and China that this president will take a more aggressive military and non-military posture in foreign affairs than Obama did? I don't know the answers to these questions and they are germane, as is the matter of whether Trump's decision, absent a clear Congressional vote in support ahead of time, was unconstitutional.

Despite my not yet having answers to these issues, I support Trump's decision. Obviously my view could change if more information emerges regarding these and other issues. While I supported Barack Obama and understood his difficult choices regarding Syria, I did not appreciate his handling of the red line he drew. Perhaps he should never have drawn it. But having done so, I thought he undercut his own and America's credibility by not militarily attacking Assad in 2013. I also believe that he could and should have done more to pressure Turkey, the Sunni Arab states and the Kurds to work more effectively together and with us against an emerging ISIS, instead of merely describing it as a JV squad who couldn't shoot straight and then doing little against ISIS or to force Assad's removal as part of a political settlement. I do believe that Obama's low key approach contributed to the refugee crisis that has threatened Europe and even played a part, albeit not central, to Trump's own political success. But I did not and do not favor significant American military involvement in Syria. One Iraq War was more than enough and we've already had two. Our history of regime change has been dismal.

I am not a Trump fan and remain opposed to most actions he has thus far taken. It will be interesting to see how things develop, not only vis-a-vis Syria, Russia, China and elsewhere in the world, but also domestically as divisions and fissures between major Trump factions flair up.