Attack on Syria
Was Attack on Syria in the U.S. Interest?
Of course, the U.S. attack on a Syrian airfield is popular in America. The Assad government’s poison gas attack on its domestic foes deserved a strong response. But should the United States have delivered it?
In 2013, on several occasions, then-citizen Trump criticized the propriety of American involvement in Syria’s civil war. What, after all he asked, did that fight have to do with us?
To be sure, the subsequent refugee exodus from Syria into Europe affected the security and stability of some American allies, but not that of the U.S. directly.
The violation of President Obama’s “red line” and the failure of its crossing by the Syrian government to draw a serious American response, was embarrassing to the White House. However, Secretary of State Kerry claimed the 2013 chemical attack resulted in the removal of dictator Assad’s arsenal of such weapons. [That Kerry was later proven mistaken didn’t change the calculations at the time that such forbidden tools of war were confined to Syria and posed no threat to the United States of America.]
So if national interest is to be the sole justification for performing American military might, was Trump right in 2017 in ordering the attack? Sure, there are strong moral and humanitarian reasons that support the strike against Syria, but they rely on different standards.
In isolation, for reasons set forth above, America’s national interest was not triggered.
But President Obama’s announcement of a “red line” in 2012 could not be viewed in isolation. His words constituted a commitment to action. Obama put the country’s word on the line. That declaration was heard, shall one say, outside of Syria, as well.
So the question loomed large after President Obama’s threat: “Is America to be trusted? Will it follow through?” The country’s friends and foes wanted to know. Future promises and warnings by the Administration would be evaluated with reference to the Syrian red line. And they were. Russia was emboldened in Ukraine and actively sided with Assad; North Korea ignored missile development restrictions and Iran entered into a nuclear deal on terms which would not have been available had it feared U.S. military action. Our allies (diplomats reported) were unsettled.
Simply put, President Trump would have assumed Barack Obama’s status as a weak national leader had he failed to respond firmly to Syria’s chemical attack on its own citizens. America’s national self-interest demanded it.