Let me say up front that I’ve never been enamored of Trump and I’m not sure a missile strike would have been the choice I would have made because I’m not sure what that gets us or where that takes us. Having said that, there are exceedingly stupid critiques of the missile strike being put into circulation that have no greater goal than to a) take a whack at Trump and b) try to make Obama look like anything but the pathetic crapweasel that he was.
Case in point via Politico, Trump’s Syria Whiplash.
In the span of one week, President Trump and his team have pirouetted from declaring that Syria’s murderous dictator could stay in power to launching airstrikes against his regime—and possibly committing the United States to a new military conflict whose scope and scale are unknown.
It’s a dizzying turnabout for a man who complained endlessly during the presidential campaign about the trillions the United States had wasted on wars in the Middle East—and who urged his predecessor in 2013 not to launch “stupid” airstrikes to punish Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons against his own people.
For this critique to make sense your have to agree with the premise that changing facts is not grounds for changing decisions. It is like a car speeding down the interstate and someone criticizes the driver for his “whiplash” because he applies brakes when he sees a car stopped in the road. Consistency requires we ignore the stopped car and keep steady at 70mph.
I’m not going to argue for or against Trump’s 2013 view beyond pointing out that the facts are different now than they were in 2013 and the call one makes from the sideline might be different than the call one makes on the field. And the fact that Obama heeded Trump’s advice and did nothing has to have some meaning. Was it right or wrong? If it was wrong, where was Politico at the time?
What Nikki Haley and Rex Tillerson said about Assad’s removal not being a US objective before the attack on Khan Sheikhoun is immaterial to what happened after the attack because a markedly different fact pattern exists today than that which existed before April 4.
The messages coming from various quarters of the administration were, shall we say, mixed. Earlier Thursday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke only of a multi-stage, John Kerry-esque process that would involve first defeating ISIS and stabilizing Syria, and then “to work collectively with our partners around the world through a political process that would lead to Assad leaving.”
This statement is bullsh** on toast. Last night, before the missiles were launched, I showed how statements indicating military action was imminent were made by Haley, Trump, Mattis and Tillerson. The messages are mixed if you don’t bother listening to the messages.
With these strikes, Trump is taking an extraordinary gamble, one whose ramifications he or his administration can’t possibly have fully examined. The Syrian conflict is mind-bogglingly complicated, with dozens upon dozens of insurgent groups squaring off against the Syrian military and pro-regime sectarian militias along with forces from Lebanese Hezbollah, Iran and Russia. Some of the insurgent groups are aligned with al Qaeda; others with ISIS. The U.S. works closely with Kurdish groups that are mortal foes of Turkey, a problematic ally that is increasingly at odds with the United States.
Has President Trump wrestled with all of this complexity? The guy who spent the morning he learned about the chemical-weapons attack riffing to reporters about Susan Rice, Bill O’Reilly and the last time he rode the subway?
Again, more stupidity that is intended to justify the Obama method of picking your butt, talking a lot, and doing nothing. The issue of Syrian chemical weapons is not new and it is difficult to believe that Obama ever believed Assad had given up his stockpiles. Though he might because his infatuation with his own intelligence was limitless. US CENTCOM is the warfighting headquarters and it is impossible to believe that contingency plans were not drawn up for a retaliatory strike on the Assad regime caused by a chemical attack. I was in a “future operations” cell and all we did was draw up scenario lists and develop contingency plans, it kept us from stealing hubcaps and radios in the parking lot.
Mattis is intimately familiar with the region as is McMaster as is the CENTCOM commander. Rather than tackling the problem de novo, Trump obviously had options briefed to him and decided which one did best what he wanted to do. The idea that a new administration should toss out years of analysis and study everything from scratch is simply bizarre.
Nobody expected Trump, of all people, to wage a campaign to avenge Syrian children—who, after all, aren’t even allowed to come into the United States as refugees. But this is a man who doesn’t like being predictable. Back in 2013, when he was still just a billionaire reality TV star with a Twitter habit, Trump said that if he did attack Syria, ”it would be by surprise and not blurted all over the media like fools.”
I find this paragraph to be utterly insane. There is really no relationship between opposing genocide or gratuitous massacres of civilians and allowing large numbers of unvetted refugees into the United States. The really aren’t related at all. Having watched Trump in action I had no trouble at all predicting that he would make this attack. The man has a large ego but an ego that is easily offended. A truly large ego would have looked at the situation and said, “I don’t care how many people Assad killed, I don’t want to mess around there.” This is Obama’s reaction to criticism when he did nothing after Assad crossed his “red line.”
“The perception was that my credibility was at stake, that America’s credibility was at stake,” Obama explained. “And so for me to press the pause button at that moment, I knew, would cost me politically. And the fact that I was able to pull back from the immediate pressures and think through in my own mind what was in America’s interest, not only with respect to Syria but also with respect to our democracy, was as tough a decision as I’ve made—and I believe ultimately it was the right decision to make.”
That is how a massive (though thoroughly unwarranted) ego reacts to pressure from lesser beings. Trump can’t do that. The international horror over the attack compelled him to “do something.” Plus, and I’ve said this time and again, the insinuation that Trump is beholden to Putin limits the decisions that Trump can make without adding fuel to the fire. The very fact that Putin is providing aid to Assad guaranteed that Trump had to do something. He had no other choice if he didn’t want to hear a louder chorus claiming that Putin is calling the shots for him.
While I remain agnostic on what we did last night, the national security apparatus Trump has put together showed that it was capable of putting together response options, carrying out a diplomatic offensive, arriving at a decision and executing the decision in little over 48 hours. That is a message that has been heard in a lot of places.