One of the harshest realities of the world is that evil has and always will exist. It is a result of human nature and natural human conflict. In an ideal fairy tale setting, it would be a simple matter of good trying to destroy evil with no hesitation. In the real world, however, things are not so black and white and every offensive decision to combat evil around the world can have major repercussions that are often unintended. Despite seeing for decades the negative results of an interventionist approach to foreign policy, the United States still has yet to learn its lesson.
Late Thursday night, Donald Trump made his biggest move in his young tenure as president. The United States fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a military air base in Syria. This attack was in retaliation for a chemical attack, ordered by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to destroy a rebel held area, which killed between 70 and 100 civilians including many children.
The use of chemical weapons is a direct violation of international law and the killing of innocent civilians is nothing short of heinous. However, this does not mean that escalating to the degree that Trump has chosen is the appropriate response.
The United States just committed an act of war. When you wage war against a country you effectively wage war against that country’s allies, and among Syria’s strongest allies is Russia. In its first public response to the attack, the Kremlin called the US move an “aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law”. Dmirty Peskov, a spokesperson for Vladimir Putin, said “Washington’s step will inflict major damage on US-Russia ties.” While some have said that Russia was notified of the plan and had the ability to stop it had they wanted to, they are clearly unhappy with the move. Russia may have refrained from interfering with this particular strike, but their geopolitical interests in the region will not let the United States continue to attack the Assad regime. If the United States were to make any attempt to overthrow Assad, you can bet your bottom dollar that Russia will step in and come to Assad’s defense. Is this something that we really want to start a war over?
Even if the United States was able to overthrow Assad and overcome any Russian intervention, who would be put into power? The Syrian rebels whom of which 60% are Islamic extremists? We have seen this movie before. The removal of Saddam Hussein in the Iraq War destroyed the stability of Iraq’s government and essentially gave ISIS the freedom it needed to rise. Libya, where Prime Minister Muammar Gaddafi was captured and killed in 2011 for his constant slaughtering of civilians, is now a safe haven for al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups due to no existence of stable government. Trump himself even tweeted in 2013: “We should stay the hell out of Syria, the ‘rebels’ are just as bad as the current regime. WHAT WILL WE GET FOR OUR LIVES AND $ BILLIONS? ZERO”. This is simply the correct stance and if Trump had said this today, I would stand by him 100%. It seems fitting that Trump has completely reversed one of the only sensible opinions he has ever held.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the attack is that it shows how impulsive and reckless the Trump Administration is in its approach to foreign policy. As early as March, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that “longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.” US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley also said “Our priority is no longer to sit and focus on getting Assad out.” The administration’s foreign policy leaders have clearly taken a complete shift in their position on Syria.
Throughout the campaign, Trump himself constantly reiterated the idea of putting America’s interests first. During the Obama Administration, Trump scolded Obama in numerous instances on the idea of intervention in Syria. So what changed? On Wednesday, Trump said Assad’s gas attack “had a big impact on (Trump),” and that “it’s very possible … that (Trump’s) attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed. When you kill innocent children, innocent babies, babies, little babies, with a chemical gas that is so lethal, people were shocked to hear what gas it was, that crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line. Many, many lines.” It’s almost as if Trump had no idea what was happening in Syria before the most recent chemical attack. Assad has been committing horrific attacks on his own people for years. But now that he has seen the attacks first hand as President, it is apparent that he is making the dangerous mistake of allowing his emotions to purely dictate his foreign policy.
If Trump is indeed so concerned about the deaths of innocent civilians, why did he not seem nearly as distraught over the 30 civilians, including 10 women and children, that were killed in Yemen in his first military raid as President? Why do we continue to aid Saudi Arabia as they bomb funerals in Yemen? One should also keep in mind that the same “innocent children” in Syria that Trump has wept over in the last week are the same innocent children that his executive order on immigration intended to keep from coming to America. If the lives of innocent people are Trump’s main concern, he can start to address the issue by allowing them into his own country rather than escalating towards World War III.
The day before the United States entered World War II, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Our involvement in the war was a result of an attack on American soil and a direct threat to our country. Since that time, our leaders have developed a propensity to let their emotions determine their course of action in foreign conflicts. The Vietnam War and the Iraq War are two of our country’s biggest foreign policy blunders and were driven largely by the emotional responses to communism and 9/11 respectively. Now we see that it took a single chemical weapon attack for Trump to completely flip his policy towards Syria. It appears that our government has yet to learn from its history that taking military action spontaneously and without consideration for its consequences results in spending trillions of dollars, losing millions of lives, and rarely concludes in victory.