If we want to preserve our international institutions and protect the values those institutions are founded upon, something has to happen when the citizens of a country already suffering from the vices of civil war lose children and relatives to inhumane chemical gas attacks. When the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian town of Khan Shaykhun takes the lives of at least 70 people and permanently injures at least 300, in a redux of a 2013 gas attack in Ghouta, inaction only exacerbates the nefarious aura exuding from the presidential palace in Damascus.
In this terrifying scenario, red lines fail to protect the human rights of Syrians. Instead, disrespected red lines only weaken the conglomeration of international leaders who still believe in a system of global cooperation—meant to mitigate the tensions that precede catastrophic conflict. Certainly, this is the rhetoric coming from members of the Republican Party in the aftermath of Tuesday’s chemical attack and President Trump’s 59 cruise missile response on Friday morning.
The 59 precision Tomahawk missiles descended upon the surface of Shayrat Air Base, believed to be the point of origin for Tuesday’s attack. President Trump’s action was welcomed by his Republican peers, but what makes this action unique in the context of his presidency is the bipartisan support it garnered.
Within the confines of Capitol Hill, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) backed the launch as a “proportional response” to Assad’s disregard for humanity. Predictably, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) also supported the show of strength.
Surprisingly, prominent political analysts like Fareed Zakaria, host of Fareed Zakaria GPS, and Ian Bremmer, President and Founder of the Eurasia Group, praised President Trump’s swift action while condemning former President Obama’s failure to disrupt Assad’s gross power consolidation.
So, what we have forming around President Trump’s action is an unusual legion of encouragement composed of allies and foes that he derided mercilessly in his scorched earth campaign strategy. After all, Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested similar action in a speech delivered to the Women of the World Summit audience on Thursday evening.
This unnatural alliance tries the nerves of many liberals and libertarians who see the strike as unconstitutional or a beating of the war drums meant to distract people from allegations of collusion with Russia. Interestingly, President Trump also finds himself extracting strength from politicians who stand at the core of the establishment he railed against in the election.
Nevertheless, one thing is for sure: President Trump and his White House stepped away from the non-interventionist policy set forth on the campaign trail and set a precedent for loud action as a result of pictures of murdered babies. Friday’s strike set the spotlight on the United States and the stakes remain high. The world is about to get a lot hotter and Syria is merely one piece of the ominous mosaic.
Vladimir Putin ironically touted international law in his response to the American airstrikes. Russia is a key factor in this conundrum, but Iran’s President Rouhani also denounced Trump’s action. It is not difficult to imagine Iran exploiting the nuclear deal framework as a chess piece in this conundrum. A mistake could undermine the deal and any hope of negotiation, which would set off alarms in Israel, especially as Netanyahu’s Likud party prepares for the 2019 elections.
Because of this dynamic and seemingly short-sighted nature of the decision to strike, I question the efficacy of Trump’s strategy. This approach appears encumbered by a ignorance of geopolitical consequences.
We can feel better when 59 Tomahawk missiles—which will require $60 million to replace—cause superficial damage to Assad’s airbase, but we have entered a realm that calls for more than an airshow that excites a jovial collection of television hosts. Ahead lies a field of landmines that requires a comprehensive strategy synthesizing effective diplomacy with tactical military action, less the Youtube corollary. As Assad warned in a 2013 interview with Charlie Rose when asked about the repercussions to an American airstrike: “Expect everything.”