Trump responded to a real crisis that centered on the protection of the God-given human rights of innocent men, women, and children. When he spoke about the dead babies killed with Sarin gas by Bashar al-Assad you could feel the President’s outrage and pain. It was Obama-like. Trump revealed that there was a real person inside the President’s skin when he took the decisive action of tomahawking the airfield that hosted Assad’s deadly chemicals before they were dropped on civilians. Few of his opponents thought Trump was capable of such a move but he was, this time.
There have been critics who said the President should have consulted Congress first; that he should’ve built an international coalition; and, that this action was another indicator of the imperial way that he views his presidency. Still, others said it was a put-up with Russia to boost Trump’s historically low popularity in the polls. Proof of the assertion of Russian cooperation, allegedly, was the announcement that Russia got a heads-up before the Navy started its bombardment. It’s fair to assume that Assad knew the attack was coming, too, since no ally is going to let its partner take it on the chin without yelling “duck.”
Let’s look at the critiques. Had Trump asked Congress for permission before the attack it would’ve taken longer than the permit process to build highways that the President, in a fabulist way, claims takes up to ten, or more, years. Seeking a Congressional “O.K.” would’ve meant interrupting the Democrats’ filibuster of Justice Gorsuch’s nomination and delaying the Republican coup of getting their man on the inside instead of Obama’s. Recall, too, Viet Nam. It was the lengthiest, most boondoggled, conflict in the nation’s history but was never a declared war. Congressional assent, however, was assumed from voting the appropriations required to sustain the war. The same may prove to be the case with the Middle East, today, in which we seem poised to war again.
There is little doubt that Trump has certain fundamental misconceptions about how his job works and the nature of its’ powers. Even in countries, like Britain, where kings and queens still rule their powers are blunted by elected representatives who answer to the people and not the crown. Trump, however, is not a particularly well-read individual and hasn’t revealed he’s a scholar of history like the just, inexplicably, demoted Steve Bannon. Trump’s view of his power appears to be more imperialistic, and ego, wrapped than philosophically grounded. There might be hope, though, that praxis will remedy the stunning ignorance with which he entered office. Syria is a start.
An international coalition, valuable when fighting an enemy like ISIS, or a full-scale war as in Iraq, is impracticable when immediate retaliatory action is required to make the strongest possible point to rogue governments like Assad’s. As a medical doctor, Assad knows what his deadly chemicals accomplish, physically. As a political leader, he knows that they are capable of generating even more fear than death among his people. Innocent Syrians haven’t the time to wait for U.N. debates, negotiations with our allies, or the fine points of diplomacy when the next breath they take may be their last. Ask the survivors of the Sarin attack what they think.
Was this a Putin-Trump ploy whereby the President would look like he’s tough on Russia and Moscow, in turn, gets an opportunity to criticize him? It’s possible, but unlikely, because of the speed with which Trump acted. Coordination between Russia and America on this type of planning would’ve taken longer than the decision matrix to fire on Syria. It would mean, also, that Trump sanctioned Assad’s criminality. That’s simply unthinkable. Trump is pro-life. Putin has to act outraged, as a matter of course, but the nasty talk directed at America doesn’t, necessarily, indicate the end of the Trump initiated Russian-American courtship that has flourished despite numerous still-unfolding scandals. It, probably, isn’t going to end because of a small attack on an equally small Syrian airfield.
The most valid criticism leveled at Trump is that the attack, on a low-value airfield, wasn’t enough of a response. Assad has murdered citizens with chemicals before and this minor response may not be enough to deter him from doing so in the future, especially, since his infrastructure is damaged far less than his pride. There have been commentators who say that this was a “proportionate” response to Assad’s latest outrage. How many dead babies does it take to remove a killer from the world community? For the proportional advocates that number, obviously, is a lot more than Assad just killed with Sarin.
Whether, or not, the exercise against Syria was a bromide, a bone tossed to a horrified American public that saw children choke to death on the evening news, remains to be seen. A good follow up would be increased sanctions on Russia to let Assad’s greatest source of comfort and assistance know that the new President will not take violations of human rights lightly. The attack, coming as the President was eating sole with Chinese President Xi Jinping, at Mar-a-Lago, carried additional weight. Once the initial plaudits end the next steps the President takes to protect the vulnerable of the world, including those in our country, will further define his commitment to humanity.
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