This week, the United States, the United Kingdom, and France took part in a military operation that targeted chemical weapons facilities in Syria. The intended targets – a storage facility, a command post and a production site – were all destroyed. President Trump tweeted “Mission Accomplished,” satisfied that Bashar Al-Assad would now understand that America meant what it said when it came to chemical weapons.
The mission did go exactly as planned, officials from the Pentagon said that the strikes had taken out the bulk of the Syrian government’s chemical weapons program. However, they also stated that it was likely that Al-Assad still retains the capability to attack his own people with chemical weapons. This is the second time that Trump has struck Syria through airstrikes, and his Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on Saturday that should Al-Assad continue using chemical weapons, the United States would be prepared to strike again.
And yet, despite this hard talk, other than another military strike, the Trump administration doesn’t seem to have a long-term strategy on Syria. America, and indeed its western allies’ plan currently seems to be retaliate to any action by the Syrian government that is beyond tolerable, but not to an extent that would seriously change the situation.
Robin Wright pointed out in the New Yorker that ‘a country that is the geostrategic center of the Middle East, Syria has been ravaged by seven years of a war that has killed an estimated half million people and displaced more than half of its twenty-three million citizens. The U.S.-led military operation did nothing to change those realities—or even challenge Assad’s brutal rule or his growing military grip on the country.’
But despite the strike actually achieving little in the way of change, or even reducing the possibility of this happening again, writers such as Thanassis Cambanis in The Atlantic stated that the strike was a necessity: ‘It is undoubtedly a good thing that a small international coalition of the willing responded to Syria’s latest chemical outrage with a limited military strike.’ Cambanis did go on to point out the contradictions in the strike, but the consensus seems worryingly tilted towards a military response, rather than trying to make real progress by talking to all involved.
To even acknowledge the strike as a good thing ignores what Matt Taibbi pointed out in Rolling Stone: that Pentagon officials were worried that they would kill Russian personnel, something that would clearly escalate tensions between the United States and a Russia that has a newly-re-elected psychopath Vladimir Putin who is surely feeling ever more confident at its helm. The idea that angering Russia was risked for a strike that didn’t even completely wipe out ability to use Syria’s chemical weapons is terrifying.
Because picture the situation with me for a second (if you can handle picturing your own, fiery, nuclear-based death): what if the strike had gone wrong: one bomber had missed its target and had instead wiped out a whole load of Russians, what happens then? Tensions between the Donald and Putin escalate? John Bolton prods Donald towards the nuclear football? The end of civilisation as we know it, and those who are unlucky enough to survive become walking imitations of Viggo Mortensen in The Road?
But this strike, one so poorly thought through Theresa May has come under criticism in the United Kingdom for reportedly pushing for the strike to be conducted early so she would have to avoid getting parliamentary consent, is one that Washington has pushed Trump towards. When news of the chemical weapons attack surfaced, several figures in Washington advocated the use of force.
Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal said that military response ‘ought to be considered.’ Tim Kaine, the man who ran for Vice President with Hillary Clinton in 2016, said he thought there was an argument for the use of military force. And Senator Lindsay Graham said he would ‘destroy Syria’s air force.’ There is also the reception Trump received last year when he dropped the “mother of all bombs” on Syria last year: Fareed Zakaria said on CNN that ‘Donald Trump became president tonight.’
That’s the situation America finds itself in. A president becomes a president not when he conducts great diplomacy, or solves a crisis, he becomes a president when he drops an enormous bomb over a war-torn country without any long-term plan to address the reasons he dropped the bomb in the first place. This problem isn’t just Donald Trump and John Bolton (though Jesus Christ someone keep them away from the nuclear football), it’s a problem with the attitudes of America when it comes to resolving a crisis. Instead of talk first, it’s bomb first. The talking is too much hard work.
Photo Credit: Evan Vucci/Associated Press.