As expected, the entire world reacted to President Trump ordering airstrikes against Syrian strategic targets late Thursday, some with fear, others with shock and others with more fodder for conspiracy theories. To many, it solidifies the notion that the Commander-in-Chief is bent on dragging America further into the chaos that has been his presidency.
But really the action leaves more questions … about Trump’s intentions, about U.S. foreign policy, about how the administration will address global conflicts like the Syrian civil war. Let’s try answer at least a few of those questions.
Just what the heck happened, really and why?
President Trump made the decision to launch the attack on Syria just days after a chemical weapons attack there that killed dozens of people and injured hundreds more. The U.S. blamed Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad for the assault and the government in Turkey believes he used sarin, a deadly nerve gas that has been banned to carry it out. U.S. forces launched 59 missiles from the USS Ross and USS Porter and hit the government-controlled Shayrat air base in central Syria. Trump is said to have been moved to make the attack after seeing the images of people gruesomely affected by the chemicals. The Syrian military said at least 7 people were killed and several were wounded in the strikes on the air base.
But Trump was quite vocal about staying out of involvement with the Syrian Civil War…
Yes he was, and that’s what’s so confusing. Going back as far as 2013, Trump was critical of any potential action by the Obama administration on Syria. His tweets say as much.
How bad has our “leader” made us look on Syria. Stay out of Syria, we don’t have the leadership to win wars or even strategize.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 30, 2013
He also questioned Obama’s ability to order a military strike in Syria through executive action.
The President must get Congressional approval before attacking Syria-big mistake if he does not!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 30, 2013
Even during his campaign, Trump said that the U.S. should stay away from Syria and focus on the homefront. He was increasingly critical of previous administrations for intervening in Middle Eastern conflicts, thereby creating a vacuum that was filled by ISIS.
“What we should do is focus on Isis. We should not be focusing on Syria,” he told the Guardian in a campaign interview. “You’re going to end up in World War III over Syria if we listen to Hillary Clinton.
You’re not fighting Syria any more, you’re fighting Syria, Russia and Iran, all right? Russia is a nuclear country, but a country where the nukes work as opposed to other countries that talk.”
Trump spoke so badly about Obama, but how did @POTUS44 react on the Syrian question?
The difference between what Trump did and how Obama handled it seems to be night and day. In a 2013 chemical attack—again which the U.S. believed to be the work of Assad—Obama was ready to go head up with the brutal dictator. But U.S. politics got in front of him and he promised that he would go through Congress before authorizing any military action. He never got Congressional approval for the strike and Republicans cited the U.S. Constitution to point out that he didn’t have the authority without it.
The next year, Obama did launch airstrikes in Syria, but not at Assad. Seeking to cripple ISIS, he sought out targets to take out their leadership, which was taking advantage of the Syrian conflict for their own advantage. Those strikes continued for several months, but did not completely eliminate ISIS, which still occupies parts of Iraq and Syria.
If Hillary Clinton were president, would she have done anything differently?
Not necessarily. We’ll never know now exactly what steps she would have taken in reaction to this week’s chemical attack. But remarks she made, just hours before Trump authorized the military action illustrate that maybe she wouldn’t have.
— ABC News (@ABC) April 7, 2017
Well just what is the rest of the world saying?
Because of the horrific nature of the chemical attack, many world powers are praising Trump for taking action. British Prime Minister Theresa May’s office issued a statement saying the strike was “an appropriate response to the barbaric chemical weapons attack launched by the Syrian regime, and is intended to deter further attacks.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu echoed her: “In words and actions President Trump sent a strong and clear response: The use of chemical weapons is unacceptable,” he said. Other nations including Saudi Arabia, Italy, France and Turkey, called the action “courageous.”
On the other hand, there’s Russia, which has lots of nuclear weapons and is a supporter of Assad. Russian President, Vladimir Putin, condemned the strike as an “aggression against a sovereign state in violation of the norms of international law.” Russian officials say what happened increases the possibility of a conflict between the U.S. and Russia and that defenses of the Syrian infrastructure would be bolstered. Confusing this further is the juxtaposition of Trump saying he wanted to build better relations between Washington and Moscow and allegations that Russian hackers had meddled in the U.S. election.
So does this mean we’re in World War III now?
No. Despite the Twitter hashtag, if World War III were started by this, you would know it. World Wars I and II began with specific actions that several nations reacted to militarily. In World War I (which by the way, the U.S. entered 100 years ago Thursday), the 1914 assassination of Franz Ferdinand, the archduke of Austria-Hungary, caused a domino effect among European powers leading them to war among themselves. In World War II, Hitler’s invasion of Poland led several nations to declare war against Germany in 1939. The U.S. entered the war in 1941 with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.
With that said, it does feel like the beginning of another Cold War with two sides cautiously looking at each other with their fingers on the nuclear trigger and getting involved in costly conflicts like Vietnam for the U.S. and Afghanistan for Russia.
Is this a win for Trump?
Yes and no. In Congress he’s getting praise and not necessarily along party lines. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “I think the president had the authority to do what he did, and I’m glad he did it.” But a Democratic critic also seemed to support Trump on the strike, which she called “a limited but necessary response” and called on Trump to “develop a comprehensive strategy to end Syria’s civil war.” This comes as Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court was confirmed on Friday by a Senate committee.
But in the long run it may not be. When the U.S. takes any kind of military action anywhere in the world, it makes a statement no matter who the president is. So despite Trump’s repeated “America First” political rhetoric, the nation has placed its foot into another global conflict and nobody knows what the outcome will be. Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, called what happened a “measured” step, according to The Hill. “We are prepared to do more, but we hope that will not be necessary.”