Last night, President Trump ordered a surprise attack in retaliation for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s alleged Sarin gas attack that has so far killed over 80 civilians, many of them women and children. Trump sent 59 Tomahawk missiles to destroy the Syrian airbase from which the planes suspected of launching the chemical attack took off. The strike was planned to send a message by destroying the airfield with minimum risk of collateral fatalities among Syrians or Russian troops, although Syria claims there were a few deaths and injuries. This is a developing story, so check the link for the latest updates.
It’s been very instructive to watch the range of reactions, pro and con, to Trump’s strike on Syria, which tell you more about the people reacting than about the situation. For instance, some strange bedfellows were created in Congress, where Rand Paul (a conservative/Libertarian with isolationist tendencies) protested that America wasn’t attacked by Syria and said Trump should have sought Congress’ approval first. Paul was joined in his criticism by liberals such as Rep. Barbara Lee and Sen. Tim Kaine, who seemed unfazed for years as Obama governed as if Congress didn’t exist, but are now absolute sticklers for the War Powers Act. Adding to the irony is that earlier that same day, in a speech in New York City, Kaine’s recent running mate Hillary Clinton called for taking the exact same action that Trump did. So if she’d been President, the only difference would be that Tim Kaine would be on all the TV news channels forcefully defending the bombing of Syria’s airbase instead of calling it “unlawful” and “unconstitutional,” as he claims it is when Trump does it.
To be fair, Trump also opened himself up to charges of hypocrisy. During the campaign, he famously tweeted that the US had no business getting involved in Syria, that it would just waste American lives and billions of dollars, and that Obama needed to ask Congress to approve before bombing Syria. He appears to have changed his mind on both counts.
While reaction in the media was predictable (liberal outlets that have been urging intervention in Syria for years suddenly declared it an impeachable war crime once Donald Trump actually did it), the reaction among rank and file Americans has been more “nuanced,” to use the media’s favorite word. On conservative radio call-in shows and Internet bulletin boards, the praise for Trump for taking a firm stand (something many said was a huge relief after eight years of Obama golfing while the world burned) was tempered by concerns from his supporters that he might lose sight of his campaign pledge to concentrate on rebuilding America and not get bogged down in the notorious sinkhole that is interventionism in the Middle East.
But whether you agree or disagree with Trump’s decision to strike Syria…Trump’s action had significance far beyond Syria.
First of all, it announced to the world in terms that lit up the sky with fire that America is under new management. If some dictator steps too far out of line, the US President will no longer play Hamlet for months, weighing and debating options and trying to “lead from behind” while lobbying the UN to do the heavy lifting until our enemies don’t take us seriously anymore. Trump showed them in no uncertain terms that the USA is back, once again leading the world, kicking butt and taking names, and that when the American President draws a "red line," there are serious consequences for crossing it.
Second, I doubt it’s a coincidence that Trump did this while all the Asian media were covering the state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping. This sent a clear message to North Korea’s dictator about what will befall him if he doesn’t knock off the nuclear threats, and to China that if they don’t get Kim Jong-Un on a leash, the US will.
And third, by brushing aside Russia’s protests that Assad wasn’t behind the chemical attack (Russia has already condemned the attack and retaliated by pulling out of an agreement to prevent in-flight conflicts with US forces), Trump didn’t just blow up an airfield in Syria. The ridiculous narrative that his domestic enemies have spent so much time building up, that he’s a puppet of Russia with strings pulled by Vladimir Putin, is also now a smoking pile of rubble.