Trump’s Syria Strike Displays Arrogance, Not Toughness

Robert Borosage

The bombing of Syria is the most irresponsible act of Donald Trump’s circus presidency – yet it enjoys the greatest applause from the foreign policy and political establishment.

Trump is doing what Obama refused to do – bombing a sovereign nation in response to a humanitarian horror, purportedly committed by the Assad government. Obama refused to retaliate after the Assad government was accused of crossing his “red line” and using chemical weapons on his own people.

Obama couldn’t understand how a retaliatory strike would produce any result. Instead, his administration joined with Vladimir Putin to negotiate the dismantling of the Syrian chemical weapons arsenal. Our foreign policy establishment has condemned him to this day for his alleged “weakness.”

Trump’s bellicosity is likely to prove the wisdom of Obama’s restraint.

In his campaign, Trump indicted that foreign policy elite for its failures, particularly in the Middle East, where we’ve wasted some $6 trillion dollars and thousands of lives to produce only endless wars and spreading chaos. He denounced “regime change” as folly. He promised that he would put ‘America First,’ and not try to police the world.

Trump suggested he would cooperate with Syria and Russia to take out ISIS. He said the ruler of Syria was a question for Syrians to decide. Those promises all were trampled as he responded to the horror of another horror from chemical weapons by ordering a punitive cruise missile attack on a Syrian air base.

The bombing strike is simply punishment. It achieves nothing. It is an act of war on a sovereign nation – triggered without congressional authorization – and yet is utterly divorced from any strategy. It punishes Syria in the hope, presumably, of instructing Assad on proper behavior. It displays not our “toughness,” but our arrogance.

Openly attacking Syria draws the U.S. deeper into the Syrian civil war, and closer to an open conflict with Syria’s allies, Russia and Iran. It does this even as Trump escalates U.S. involvement in Yemen and Iraq. We are going deeper into the mire.

To the extent that it is followed by more military action that actually weakens Assad’s forces, it is weakening the most effective opponent of ISIS, the terrorists that Trump has pledged to destroy.

The retaliatory strike comes before responsibility for the humanitarian horror is clearly proved. Once more, the U.S. claims to be cop, judge and jury over a humanitarian horror in a civil war on the other side of the world.

Instead of taking time to prove who in fact committed the crime, mobilizing international consensus in condemnation, demanding judgment by the International Criminal Court, which the U.S. still refuses to join, the Trump administration asserts it will be the prosecutor, make a judgment and determine the penalty unilaterally.

This is not an America First policy. It is not a true internationalist policy. It is a continuation of the costly fantasy of the U.S. as the “indispensable nation,” willing and able to police the world.

Americans agreed with candidate Trump’s criticisms of our failed and costly policies in the Middle East. Majorities thought our policies left us less secure. Most want the U.S. to focus on rebuilding our country, not on wars across the world.

Americans vote for the seemingly less bellicose alternative, yet keep getting more wars without end. In foreign policy as in economic and domestic policies, Trump’s populist promises are being abandoned. ‘The blob’ – the foreign policy establishment Obama learned to distrust – is back.

The foreign policy elites and corrupted politicians are regaining control. Trump has handed his foreign policy over to the generals, his economic policy to Goldman Sachs alums, his domestic policies to Paul Ryan and the Republican Right.

Carefully limited to pilotless cruise missiles, the attack appears to have no cost to the U.S. Trump will no doubt enjoy a bump in the polls. He’ll bask in the approval of our foreign policy nabobs. He’ll enjoy bipartisan support, as Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer has already indicated.

And the U.S. is now mired even deeper in the complicated and spreading chaos of the Middle East. We will spend even more lives and resources, cause even more destruction, and as certain as night follows day, generate more terrorists and more failed states.

Syria has been “punished.” If Assad was in fact responsible for the horror, hopefully he’ll somehow learn a lesson. The Trump administration will find itself continuing wars that it cannot win and will not end. And this country will continue to pay a terrible price for this folly.

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