President Donald Trump’s order of targeted missile strikes on a Syrian airbase marked what may the first and most important foreign policy decision of his presidency. Not only are Syrian and American lives at stake but so is his standing as a leader in world affairs.
The question now is – what next?
In some ways, the “horrific” situation in Syria could be called the Tale of Three Presidents.
The Bush administration adamantly claimed that Saddam Hussein had chemical weapons. One of the justifications for going into Iraq was to prevent that WMD from being spirited off to neighboring Muslim nations like Syria. The gas slaughter in Khan Sheikhoun offered a bittersweet vindication of that claim.
Barack Obama first spent seven years ignoring the civil war in Syria and the many atrocities of the Assad regime. Late into his second term, he warned that he was drawing a line in the sand that Assad must not cross. The fact that line moved so many times primarily led to the events of last week.
Now, the public statements of President Trump and his action against Assad’s forces in Syria have set a new red line in Syria. Even many of his opponents acknowledge that Trump’s policy makes a much-needed step beyond the rhetoric of Obama. His decision last week reflects Trump’s determination to project a tougher image of America while protecting American interests.
Some congressional lawmakers praised the airstrikes against the Syrian airbase including old detractors like Senators Lindsey Graham (Rep – SC) and John McCain (Rep – AZ). Others claimed the action should have been approved by Congress and that President Trump had no clear agenda in the Middle East.
The response of Russia to our action against Assad has left the American mainstream media strangely quiet about claims that Russia and Trump were in some kind of conspiracy. Moscow called the America’s missile strikes in Syria an “act of aggression” and suspended an agreement aimed at preventing direct conflict between U.S. and Russia forces in the region.
Vice President Mike Pence told reporters that it was time for Russia to “keep the word that they made to see to the elimination of chemical weapons so that they no longer threaten the people in that country.”
Russia adamantly denies that Assad was responsible for the chemical attack. In an apparent reference to U.S. criticism Kremlin spokesman Dimitry Peskov said, “No doubt, forces exist that are pushing for de-legitimization of the lawful leadership of the Syrian Arab Republic.”
After a contentious approval process, President Trump’s cabinet members are doing their job and taking the point in the Syria situation. What they say and do is the best indicator of what may happen next in Syria.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement following the attacks that Russia and Iran “bear great moral responsibility for these deaths.” His first official trip to Moscow highlighted a discussion about the gas slaughter and the Syria crisis.
During a joint briefing with National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, Tillerson made it plain that future steps through the international political process may eventually lead to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s ouster.
“Through the Geneva process, we will start a political process to resolve Syria’s future in terms of its governance structure and that ultimately, in our view will lead to a resolution of Bashar al Assad’s departure,” said Tillerson.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters that tougher sanctions against Mnuchin told reporters that tougher sanctions against Assad use of chemical weapons is part of the U.S. effort to “stop this type of activity’.”
Nikki Haley, the American Ambassador to the United Nation, made perhaps the strongest statement of any during a UN Security Council emergency meeting. She said the United States will no longer allow Assad to use such weapons. She questioned whether Russia knowingly allowed Assad to use chemical weapons, is incompetent or whether Assad is playing the Russians for a fool. She added that the U.S. took a very measured step but is prepared to do more.
Questions remain as to what the purpose of our use of force is. Is to halt Assad’s use of chemical weapons or at least to force the Russians into more serious negotiations? Is it regime change? Will the President have the support of the American people to stay the course, particularly if things go wrong?
The answers to these question will dictate where our involvement in Syria goes next. This may well be the first great test of President Trump’s America First stance.
~ Facts Not Memes