Trump’s whiplash reversal on Syria
“Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the air field in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched,” announced Donald Trump to reporters at his luxurious “Mar-a-Lago southern White House” resort in Palm Beach, Florida, as he prepared to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
At 8:40 p.m. Eastern Time, while Trump and his guests were dining on pan-seared Dover sole and New York strip steak surrounded by ornate luxury, 59 tomahawk cruise missiles were launched from U.S. navy warships in the Mediterranean enroute with their destructive payloads to Al-Shayrat airbase near Khan Sheikhun in the Syrian Arab Republic.
The strike marks a complete reversal by Trump, who in September of 2013, sent a message by social media to then U.S. president Obama. “President Obama, do not attack Syria,” Trump said in his message. “There is no upside and tremendous downside. Save your “powder” for another (and more important) day!” The abrupt about-face by the commander-in-chief nee real estate tycoon resulted from an emotional reaction over the victims of a chemical attack, which Trump, without presenting a shred of evidence, alleges was carried out by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The “targeted military strike” on Syria, which plausibly is an act of war and thus puts Trump in violation of the U.S. constitution and international law, came upon the heels of an emotional appeal by U.S. envoy to the United Nations Nikki Haley. “How many more children have to die before Russia cares?” Haley pontificated while staring fixedly at the Russian Ambassador. This comes less than a week after the former South Carolina governor parroted U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that “our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out.”
Russia insists that an air strike by the Syrian government struck an insurgent chemical warehouse and released toxic vapors into the atmosphere. The U.S. along with other western powers are accusing the Syrian government of using poisonous gas in a manner identical to the accusations generated by the chemical incident in Ghouta near Damascus in August 2013, which appears to have been orchestrated by Saudi Arabian controlled rebels.
Evidence that the latest chemical attack was orchestrated by opponents of the Assad government includes a message in Arabic posted on social media on April 3—a day before the attack—by an anti-Assad reporter, who spoke of covering attacks in the Hama countryside, including the use of chemical weapons. Earlier on April 1, observers on the ground noted that Dr. Shajul Islam of Khan Sheikhun had received several shipments of gas masks. Dr. Islam, as reported by the Daily Mail, appears to have ties to Daesh, which has expanded its chemical warfare capabilities by capturing some 2,500 sarin-filled rockets from an Iraqi facility in 2014.
Overall congressional reaction to Trump’s impulsive assault on the sovereign Syrian state has been positive on both sides of the aisle. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a statement, “Making sure Assad knows that when he commits such despicable atrocities he will pay a price is the right thing to do.” Likewise, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), who opposed missile strikes under the Obama administration in 2013, concurred, “Tonight’s strike against the Assad regime’s Shayrat Air Base will hopefully diminish his capacity to commit atrocities against innocent civilians.”
Clearly, Trump has resurrected regime change in Syria but what will come next? This unknown will largely be determined by Russia’s reaction. If the volatile U.S. leader can assure Russian President Vladimir Putin that the missile strikes will be strictly confined to President Assad’s forces and avoid any Russian personnel, then perhaps this highly inflammable, high risk game can continue briefly. But how long will it be before another Russian warplane is shot down or the trigger-happy Trump strikes Russian troops, elevating and intensifying the conflict into a showdown between the U.S. and Russia?