The issues in Syria and North Korea are real, but the God-King’s motives are suspect…. (More)

“Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children”

So declared the God-King last night after he ordered cruise missile strikes on a Syrian military airfield:

“Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children,” Trump said in remarks from Mar-a-Lago, his family compound in Palm Beach, Florida. “It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.”

Yes, but….

First let’s note that Hillary Clinton called for a similar response in an interview yesterday. You can make a good argument that President Obama should have acted similarly, and Clinton made that argument. So did Senate Republicans who vocally opposed the God-King … until last night’s attacks.

And there’s the rub.

As New York Magazine’s Andrew Sullivan writes, the Trump Doctrine seems to be unpredictability and incoherence:

We learned last night a little more about how President Trump views the use of force. He is willing to use it with no notice, and narrowly. He chose to retaliate against Assad’s obscene recent use of chemical weapons against civilians, including children, to crush the remaining resistance to his sectarian dictatorship. Trump did so very swiftly – but he chose not to decimate Assad’s entire air force, as Clinton, McCain, and Graham wanted, and as the Pentagon proposed, according to the Intercept.

So what to make of it? On the surface, it seems to follow NSC flak Michael Anton’s view that the best foreign policy is neither interventionism nor isolationism but something he once described as “enhanced whack a mole.”

He elaborated this idea in a blog-post in the now defunct Journal of American Greatness:

Stop flattering hostile regimes. Aggressively attack our enemies in ISIS and al-Qaida. Do not try to control territory for the long term. Try to win “hearts and minds,” but with minimal effort and low expectations. Seek alliances from which we can gain basing arrangements to project power. … The idea is to keep al-Qaida, ISIS – and whoever else may crop up – forever on their back heel and forever being forced to “rebuild the mound.” …

The U.S. military has decisively – decisively – won every battle it’s fought since 9/11, with only three exceptions: Fallujah in 2004 and Kunar in 2007 and 2011. It can defeat ISIS and al-Qaida easily and endlessly now, so long as “defeat” is defined rationally. It means: beat them. Win decisive, “kinetic” – and very public – military victories.

“Decisive, kinetic, very public.” You can see how that appeals to Trump.

Will last night’s missile strikes, even if continued for a few weeks, force Syrian President Bashir Assad to resign or negotiate an end to his nation’s deadly civil war? No, they won’t. Assad has the backing of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and he won’t resign unless and until Putin tells him to. As for negotiating an end to the civil war, does anyone believe it’s possible to negotiate a political solution with ISIS, let alone the many other factions fighting Assad, ISIS, and each other?

Will missile strikes keep Assad from using chemical weapons again once the God-King’s attention wanders to North Korea (or Twitter)? Again, no, they won’t.

Real solutions in Syria evaded President Obama’s administration for five years. Any lasting solution will require careful planning, ongoing negotiations with Russia, China, and Iran, and years of follow-through. Does anyone really expect that level of long-term focus from a guy who gave up on health care in less than three weeks?

The Federalist is a right-wing rag and I’m not a fan, but Sean Davis posed 14 important questions about Syria:

1) What national security interest, rather than pure humanitarian interest, is served by the use of American military power to depose Assad’s regime?

2) How will deposing Assad make America safer?

3) What does final political victory in Syria look like (be specific), and how long will it take for that political victory to be achieved? Do you consider victory to be destabilization of Assad, the removal of Assad, the creation of a stable government that can protect itself and its people without additional assistance from the United States, etc.?

4) What military resources (e.g., ground troops), diplomatic resources, and financial resources will be required to achieve this political victory?

5) How long will it take to achieve political victory?

6) What costs, in terms of lives (both military and civilian), dollars, and forgone options elsewhere as a result of resource deployment in Syria, will be required to achieve political victory?

7) What other countries will join the United States in deposing Assad, in terms of military, monetary, or diplomatic resources?

8) Should explicit congressional authorization for the use of military force in Syria be required, or should the president take action without congressional approval?

9) What is the risk of wider conflict with Russia, given that nation’s presence and stake in Syria, if the United States chooses to invade and depose Assad, a key Russian ally in the Middle East?

10) If U.S. intervention in Syria does spark a larger war with Russia, what does political victory in that scenario look like, and what costs will it entail?

11) Given that Assad has already demonstrated a willingness to use chemical weapons, how should the United States respond if the Assad regime deploys chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons against the United States?

12) Assuming the Assad regime is successfully removed from power, what type of government structure will be used to replace Assad, who will select that government, and how will that government establish and maintain stability going forward?

13) Given that a change in political power in the United States radically altered the American position in Iraq in 2009, how will you mitigate or address the risk of a similar political dynamic upending your preferred strategy in Syria, either in 2018, 2020, or beyond?

14) What lessons did you learn from America’s failure to achieve and maintain political victory following the removal of governments in Iraq and Libya, and how will you apply those lessons to a potential war in Syria?

Does anyone believe the God-King has, or would even recognize, coherent answers to those 14 questions?

More likely, this is the first in an endless series of “decisive, kinetic, very public” military actions that will accomplish no foreign policy goal … but will rally Senate Republican hawks and wavering Trump voters ’round the proverbial flag.

The problems in Syria and North Korea are real, but last night’s missile strikes look less like a solution than a distraction, launched by someone whose closest advisors are fighting like tomcats and whose lies and excuses are wearing thin.

And that’s a lousy reason to start a war.


Photo Credit: Chris O’Meara (AP)


Good day and good nuts