The US bombing of a Syrian airfield is flip-floppery at its worst. And it signals to America’s foes that Trump can be easily dragged into military quagmires
By Moustafa Bayoumi / The Guardian / April 7, 2017
Donald Trump, the man who just over a month ago wanted to bar entry of all Syrian refugees into the United States, now wants us to think that he cares deeply about Syrian children. I don’t believe it.
What I do believe is that our president is a bad actor. He was a bad actor on his old television show, and he’s still a bad actor today. And he’s a bad actor in both senses of the term, which is to say his actions are poorly executed and morally questionable.
Addressing the nation from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, the president announced that he had authorized “a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched”. Trump was referring to a chemical weapons attack on Tuesday that killed more than 80 people, including dozens of women and children, in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun. The chemical attack had in all likelihood been carried out by the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
But what will the US’s military strike – a barrage of at least 59 (offensively named) Tomahawk cruise missiles aimed at a lone airfield – really accomplish?
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According to reports, the missiles targeted only a single Syrian airfield and not Syria’s air defenses. In other words, the attack does not ground Syria’s air force. Nor did the attack strike any of the Russian aircraft currently bombing Syria. In fact, the Russians were alerted of the attack beforehand (who may, in turn, have also alerted the Syrians). The attack does not significantly degrade the military capabilities of Bashar al-Assad.
So why attack in the first place? Once again, we’re being told by military officials that their actions are intended “to send a message.” What nonsense this is. Will Bashar al-Assad now cease his murderous actions because he’s just been delivered “a message”? How are we supposed to believe there is any strategy to Trump’s actions anyway? Just last week, Nikki Haley, Trump’s UN ambassador, said of Assad: “Do we think he’s a hindrance? Yes. Are we going to sit there and focus on getting him out? No.”
What the erratic flip-floppery of Trump’s foreign policy really means is that America’s foes can easily manipulate the Trump administration into greater and greater military quagmires.
Has the administration considered how Lebanon’s Hezbollah will react to the US bombing their close ally Bashar al-Assad? Is the Trump administration prepared to put large numbers of troops on the ground to accomplish its goals? Will it militarily challenge Russia if needed? Or does the US military now only “send messages”?
The administration seems to have no vision of what it wants to accomplish or what it can accomplish. Trump ended his announcement of Thursday’s strike with the modest goal of ending “terrorism of all kinds and all types.” Good luck with that. Meanwhile, the heart of the problem is that the United States seems always to have only one solution to war: make more war.
None of this exonerates the murderous, thuggish and brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad. The moral and strategic imperatives of our world today demand that the Syrian civil war be brought to a swift and just conclusion. And we must recognize that the end of Syria’s civil war will not be found through military means but through careful deliberation between many different parties.
But we are moving farther away from those goals. At its best, Thursday’s reckless and largely ineffective bombing does little but make US lawmakers feel good about themselves. At its worst, it deepens a war which the US has no idea how to end.