On Thursday, while studying laboriously for a midterm scheduled for the next morning, I decided I deserved a study break and turned on the T.V. to watch Tucker Carlson Tonight. While interviewing one of his guests, his show was suddenly interrupted by a breaking news alert with Shepard Smith announcing we had just launched some forty to sixty Tomahawk missiles at multiple targets in Syria. I was shocked, to say the least. During his campaign, the President advertised a platform rebranding ourselves away from being the world police and reducing our meddling in the Middle East. With the exception of ending ISIS once and for all, I consider myself anti-war. I had wholeheartedly supported this campaign promise and still do. Hearing that we were attacking Assad-controlled installations, ones being used by the Russians no less, it took me aback. I hadn’t signed up for this.
Naturally, I had to see what the Internet thought of the ordeal. I expected this to have already rocketed to the frontpage of Reddit, but even the usual suspects were only posting about the event in their new tabs and weren’t making much headway. Even so, there was a large presence of posts asking what in the hell was going on. Even in the pro-Trump subreddits there was a lot of confusion. For the first time since I’d hopped on the Trump Train, I was genuinely unsure of what was going on. Why did the President launch this attack? The rumor was that the neocons had finally gotten to him.
The next day, Sen. John McCain was suddenly in full support of Trump, something those of us who despise the GOP establishment found deeply concerning. Even worse, Clinton, with her expert judgment as the facilitator of destabilizing Libya and survivor of Bosnian sniper-fire, had recommended strikes against the Syrian regime. However, after a bit of reflection, gathering more information, and being able to relax after my exam, I realized what this military strike might actually mean. What President Trump did with this single action once again created a monumental tonal shift in his favor when it seemed he might have been backed into a corner. Although my knee-jerk reaction to the news was only natural for someone who wants nothing more than to “Put America First,” I am still ashamed I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.
Let me begin my analysis of President Trump’s rather brilliant move by saying that the situation is rapidly unfolding. It could go any way from here. As the events of the coming weeks unfold, reevaluations can and should certainly be made, but the situation should be evaluated as it currently is. Another fact to preface: Assad is a brutal dictator. The man is a butcher and deserves to be recognized as such and properly condemned. He deserves to be punished. Rightly so, Trump has taken decisive action by bombing some of Assad’s airfields that were being used to store a number of chemical weapons, but the point of this attack extended far beyond this dictator and the conflict raging in Syria.
Let’s set the stage for the context of this decision. The military action in Syria shifted the public conversation away from our many current distractions. Domestically, the left is split between neoliberals criticizing the President for not getting involved in Syria since the news hit, despite their nominally anti-war stance, and progressives continuing to demand that we let in more refugees, even as Europe continues to bleed from her leaders masochistic altruism. At the same time, the main-stream media continues to push the Russian connection narrative, which is becoming less convincing by the day in the wake of the Wikileaks’ Vault 7 infodumps and especially after Rachel Maddow hilariously embarrassed herself on national T.V. with President Trump’s 2005 tax returns, a cable news spectacle that outshone even Geraldo Rivera’s overhype of the Capone vault. Internationally, North Korea has decided to test the boundaries of Trump’s patience again by testing a ballistic missile, which became a topic of interest with the visit of the Chinese President Xi Jingping. China has also been rather aggressive in the South China Sea, creating a military base on a man-made island. On the Russian front, Russia released a statement that essentially said that their support for Assad is not “unconditional,” as there is no love lost between Putin and Assad. They both know they are together for strategic reasons and nothing else. With these factors in mind, we can begin to take a look at why the strike was undertaken and what it accomplished.
First, this shuts down a lot of the domestic opposition Trump is facing. Although the Democrats have been screeching incessantly to try and find something, anything, that may hurt Trump, this has made them realize that perhaps they and the media shouldn’t try attacking the President for being weak on foreign policy stances and should stick with their anti-war position. More importantly, as shown with Sen. Mccain’s cable appearance, the neocons believe they might be able to work with Trump for their hawkish ends. After the absolute thrashing House Speaker Paul Ryan has received due to his failure with his RyanCare, laying the foundation for what is likely his final term as Speaker, it is fascinating to see how cheaply the neoconservatives can be bought. Essentially, Trump has buttressed his position in the GOP, which is necessarily a threat to Speaker Ryan’s.
Second, and perhaps most importantly, this was a display of strength. Many criticized President Trump’s predecessor, perhaps too harshly, for his comments on a “red line” in Syria. Despite the fact this statement made by then President Obama and those of former Secretary of State Kerry resulted in de-escalation, the situation was received as a show of weakness continued from Obama’s backing off from the situation in the Crimea. Trump delivered the slap in the face to Assad that many perceived Obama only talking about delivering. Additionally, Trump did this rather covertly, as he spoke of for months on the campaign trail. After nonchalantly bidding President Xi Jingping a good evening, Trump ordered the strike. Yes, Assad was the recipient of the attack, but this was a message sent to China, North Korea, and Russia that America is done playing nice. Trump gave the shout of a father that has to wake up early the next morning: “don’t make me come down there!” And they better take him seriously.
That said, this was not a declaration of war and indeed not even an escalation from past US bombing strikes, such as the destruction of a key Assad stronghold that allowed ISIS to gain control of the region and the bombing of a hospital, killing dozens of innocent civilians and doctors from Doctors Without Borders. Trump warned the Russians that he would be bombing the bases, as per our two countries’ agreement, and casualties were minimized. With Russia saying their support of Assad was not unconditional, this allows for a pathway to a coalition with Russia in Syria against ISIS and, eventually, possible regime change, for those that think such a thing is a good idea. However, the destruction of ISIS must come before the regime change in Syria or else we will guarantee a second Iraq or, more likely, Libya. This will only strengthen ISIS. This also shows to Russia, our allies, and our own citizens that we are not going to sit on our haunches while acts of barbarism and terror, whether by states or by terrorist organizations, continue to occur. We will take swift and decisive action, rather than just placing another filter on our profile pictures “in solidarity.” There will be no more St. Petersburgs, no more Nices, no more Bataclans, no more Stockholms, no more San Bernardinos, and no more Orlandos.
Photo credit US Embassy in Moscow