Chaos and confusion everywhere
“What will we get for bombing Syria besides more debt and a possible long term conflict?” Donald Trump, Aug. 29, 2013
Before he became president, Donald Trump had an opinion on almost everything. Sometimes he had two or three differing opinions on the same subject in a single day. One opinion that seemed fairly consistent was that ISIS was a major threat to American national security. Trump even had a super-secret plan to defeat ISIS. Remember that?
On Aug. 21, 2013, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad launched a horrific chemical attack on his own people, killing over 1,400 and injuring 3,600. This attack and its devastating consequences were broadcast widely. President Barack Obama considered retaliating militarily but realized he needed Congress’s approval, per the U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8, Clause 11, which says only Congress may declare war. Congress, controlled by Republicans, refused to act, so there was no military strike.
Trump expressed his opinions on these potential bombings: “The President must get Congressional approval before attacking Syria-big mistake if he does not!” Aug. 30, 2017. “President Obama, do not attack Syria. There is no upside and tremendous downside. Save your “powder” for another (and more important) day!” Sept. 7, 2013.
Many Republican leaders expressed the same concerns about a military strike. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.: “I believe the President’s proposed military strike in Syria cannot achieve its stated objectives. In fact, I fear it will make things worse.” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.: “While I have long argued forcefully for engagement in empowering the Syrian people, I have never supported the use of U.S. military force in the conflict. And I still don’t.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah: “What is clear is that launching a few missiles will do nothing to end Syria’s civil war, and is neither a real strategy to stop the deployment of chemical weapons in Syria nor a guarantee that chemical weapons won’t be used in the future by the Assad regime. That is not a plan for the region.” Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.: “no clear and present danger to the USA to justify going to war in Syria.”
One argument against striking Syria was that as terrible as Assad is, he is fighting ISIS. Attacking Assad helps ISIS. Syria is not a threat to America, but ISIS is, so the choice has to be made as to whom we attack and whom we help. The U.S. bombed Syria during the Obama administration, but only where we could cause damage to ISIS, not Syrian government forces.
Another complication is that Russia is helping Assad, as well as fighting ISIS. Attacking the Syrian government would be like an attack on Russia, not something we want to do. But all of that went by the wayside when Trump saw the pictures of the latest Syrian chemical attack on April 4, which killed 72 people, including children. Trump went from believing we should leave Syria alone, his position on March 30, 2017, to attacking a Syrian airfield on April 6, 2017.
Apparently he hadn’t seen the pictures of the far worse chemical attack in 2013, when he said we should not retaliate, even to punish them for the attack. “mr trump would attack Syria or no? No, lets make our country great again as they fight their war!” Sept. 3, 2013 (verbatim). “What I am saying is stay out of Syria.” Sept. 3, 2013.
Whatever he felt in 2013, Trump was now outraged. He reversed his policy of letting the Syrian people decide what would happen in Syria. He didn’t ask Congress for authority. He didn’t reveal any overall strategy to stop the Syrian civil war. He just decided to shoot some missiles, apparently on impulse. And the same Republicans who refused to give Obama the authority to do that praised Trump, saying he was taking decisive action. Never mind that Trump violated the Constitution; he blew something up, and Republicans love that.
This attack won’t stop Assad’s atrocities. It won’t defeat ISIS. By attacking Assad, Trump has strengthened ISIS and angered Russia. Is that really what he intended? Trump has a difficult time making his positions clear, since they change so often, but he did seem to think defeating ISIS was crucial. Does this attack further that goal? Does he have a clear policy for future actions, keeping any unintended consequences in mind? The path forward is going to become more confusing and chaotic as the days go by. We must pray it doesn’t lead us into World War III.
Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.