The other day I posed the question about the Trump administration’s nascent foreign policy: “Are we now going from the Realpolitik foreign policy announced just last week, as the New York Times analyzes today, For Trump, a Focus on U.S. Interests and a Disdain for Moralizing, to a return to the Bush Doctrine of unilateral military action?”
With last night’s impulsive “do something” missile strikes on a Syrian air base, we still do not have an answer. Acting on Instinct, Trump Upends His Own Foreign Policy.
The New York Times analyzes, Trump’s Far-Right Supporters Turn on Him Over Syria Strike:
Some of President Trump’s most ardent campaign supporters were among his most vocal opponents on Thursday after he ordered the missile strike against Syria, charging him with breaking his promise to keep the United States out of another conflict in the Middle East.
Prominent writers and bloggers on the far right attacked Mr. Trump. They accused him of turning against his voters by waging an attack that he had for years said would be a terrible idea. They also criticized him for launching the strike without first seeking congressional approval — something he said on Twitter in 2013 would be a “big mistake.”
The most vocal in their outrage were leaders from the small but influential white nationalist movement.
Paul Joseph Watson, an editor at the conspiracy theorist site Infowars, said on Twitter that Trump “was just another deep state/neocon puppet.” He added, “I’m officially OFF the Trump train.”
Richard Spencer, a far-right activist and white nationalist who coined the term “alt-right,” said he condemned the attack and hinted at supporting another presidential candidate in 2020: Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, a Democrat. Ms. Gabbard met with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria in January and on Thursday criticized the missile strike as shortsighted and reckless.
For some on the far right, particularly those who are pro-Russia, Mr. Trump’s strike crossed a [red] line.
The schism among the president’s far-right supporters had been building since Mr. Trump said his attitude toward Syria had “changed very much” after the chemical weapons attack. His comments signaled a discernible shift in White House policy, and from his stance during the presidential campaign.
Some of those supporters claimed, without evidence, that the chemical weapons attack was a hoax carried out by the “deep state” — what they believe to be a nebulous network of military officials working behind the scenes — to drag the United States into war. Scott Adams, the cartoonist who created Dilbert, wrote on his website on Thursday before the missile strike that the chemical weapons attack was a “manufactured event.”
A few hours before the missile strike, the far-right blogger Mike Cernovich warned his followers in a live video that the United States was going to attack Syria. “Remind Trump who supported him,” he told his viewers. “We got to stop him.”
While the Stephen Bannon led white nationalists of the alt-right engage in a clusterfuck, there are real world consequences to this new stage of U.S. involvement in Syria. Russia Suspends Cooperation With U.S. in Syria After Missile Strikes:
Russia on Friday froze a critical agreement on military cooperation with the United States in Syria after an American military strike, warning that the operation would further corrode already dismal relations between Moscow and Washington.
Syria, Russia’s ally, condemned the American strikes as “a disgraceful act.”
In addition to suspending the pact to coordinate air operations over Syria, an accord that was meant to prevent accidental encounters between the two militaries, Russia also said it would bolster Syria’s air defense systems, and was reported to be planning to send a frigate into the Mediterranean Sea to visit the logistics base at the Syrian port of Tartus.
Dmitri S. Peskov, a spokesman for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, said that the point of the agreement had been to decrease danger in the air and that canceling it would not significantly increase that peril with missiles already flying around.
“Amid the missile strikes, it is hardly reasonable to talk about any more increase in the risk, as the risk has increased considerably,” Mr. Peskov said at a news briefing.
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Mr. Peskov said that the cruise missile strikes on Friday represented a “significant blow” to American-Russian ties, and that Mr. Putin considered the attack a breach of international law that had been made under a false pretext. “The Syrian Army has no chemical weapons at its disposal,” Mr. Peskov said.
The American strikes on an airfield in Al Shayrat, which were aimed at Syrian fighter jets and other infrastructure, ignored the fact that “terrorists” had also used chemical weapons, Mr. Peskov said, without naming specific instances.
A spokesman for the Russian military, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, issued a statement calling the military effectiveness of the American airstrikes “extremely low,” with just 23 of the 59 missiles on target.
The American missiles destroyed a warehouse of material and technical property, a training building, a canteen, six MIG-23 aircraft in repair hangars, and a radar station, according to the Russian military. A Russian television reporter, Evgeny Poddubny, who was at the air base, said nine planes had been destroyed.
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Iran, Russia’s main ally in the region in buttressing Mr. Assad, also denounced the American attack. Bahram Ghasemi, a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, said in a statement that his government condemned the missile strikes, adding that they would lead to “the strengthening of failing terrorists” and complicate the situation in the region.
Mr. Ghasemi noted that Iran, a major victim of chemical weapons attacks during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, condemned their use anywhere. But, he added, the accusations against Syria were unproved.
In terms of the United States action, the statement said, Tehran “regards this unilateral measure as dangerous, destructive and a violation of international law.”
On the other side of the coin:
The British defense secretary, Michael Fallon, expressed support for the American missile strikes. “One of the purposes of this very limited and appropriate action was to deter the regime from using gas in this appalling way,” he told the BBC.
In a joint statement, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President François Hollande of France said that Mr. Assad, the Syrian president, “bears sole responsibility.”
A spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Ibrahim Kalin, said the American strikes had been a positive response to “war crimes” in Syria, where the six-year civil war has led to nearly 400,000 deaths and created a refugee crisis as millions sought to flee. Mr. Kalin also repeated Turkey’s call to immediately set up and enforce a no-fly zone to create safe areas in Syria for those fleeing the violence.
The American strikes were also praised by Israel and by Saudi Arabia, two crucial allies of the United States in the Middle East. In a statement carried by the state news agency SPA, a Saudi official called the strikes a “courageous decision” by Mr. Trump. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said he hoped the action would “resonate not only in Damascus, but in Tehran, Pyongyang and elsewhere.”
So once again the countries of the world are choosing up sides, just as they did 100 years ago in World War I.
Trump’s impulsive “do something” missile strikes on a Syrian air base may make his alpha male ego feel manly, but is it part of an overall military/diplomatic strategy? And what are the next steps for the U.S. in Syria?
The current U.S. presence inside Syria is not authorized by any prior Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF)’s for Afghanistan and Iraq. President Obama stretched those authorizations beyond recognition in order to pursue ISIS in Syria after the Tea-Publican Congress failed to act on his request in August 2013 for an AUMF for Syria. President Trump unilaterally acted on his own without Congressional authorization last night.
UPDATE: Charlie Savage of the New York Times notes that Trump acted unilaterally without an authorization from Congress or the United Nations, and explores the question Was Trump’s Syria Strike Illegal? It’s Complicated.
Has Congress entirely abdicated its constitutional duty in matters of war and now concedes its war powers to a president who will take us to war on a whim?
Now that the U.S. has, for the first time, directly attacked the Bashar al-Assad regime, the stakes are much higher.
Assad is aligned with Hezbollah, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Shiite militias from Iraq and Iran, and Russia. Any one of these actors may now perpetrate an attack on U.S. troops stationed in Syria and Iraq. U.S. fighter jets that have been operating inside Syria with the cooperation of the Russians, cooperation now “frozen,” may be shot down by Russian-made surface-to-air missiles (SAMS) operated by the Syrians and Russians. Retaliatory terrorist acts are almost certain to occur. When this escalation of hostilities occurs, what is the plan?
And what about regime change in Syria? if Bashar al-Assad is removed from power and sent to The Hague to stand trial for war crimes (more likely he will be welcomed in exile in Russia), who in Syria today could form a government with any authority? A government that could prevent the wholesale slaughter of the losing sides in Syria’s civil war.
There are those who assert that Syria now needs to be “partitioned” along tribal and sectarian lines to resolve this civil war. If this is true, then does this not also apply to Iraq? After all, these were random borders imposed by the colonial British and French empires after World War I.
Does anyone honestly believe that Donald J. Trump has even thought about these issues? (I didn’t think so.)