Israelis and Americans are today extolling the virtue of Donald Trump’s first foray into international affairs. Besides the illegality of his recent actions, without the “advise and consent” role of Congress, had Trump not let his visceral disgust with the gassing of Syrian citizens get the better of him, he might have already noticed that children, women and men of Syria have been bombed into oblivion for the past six years together with the subsequent exodus from Syria of five million refugees. Once-graceful cities that survived the millennia of wars and invasions such as Aleppo today lie in unrecognizable ruins. Ancient walls and artifacts buried in Palmyra have been breached and exposed, robbed and left in shambles.
The glee with which Benjamin Netanyahu greeted the missile attack by the U.S. Navy on Bashar al-Assad’s air base was not very well thought out, just like the attack itself. The various news sources in the United States that called Trump’s actions “Presidential” are similarly profoundly misguided. What makes a great President is a well-considered and well-defined policy that is expressed to the population beforehand. It invites discussion, arguments, principles and stated goals before the first weapon is ever used. The President hears both sides of the political aisle, absorbs what he hears and processes it into a cogent and coherent policy which reduces friction between the parties and supplies much-needed support for achieving military goals. This is how you avoid a 15-year war in Afghanistan. Of course, political motives are not the best guide for military actions. In fact, they are the worst way to deal with such events.
What we witnessed last week was an American President attacking a sovereign nation with zero input from Congress, violating the War Powers Act. Afterwards, we were subjected to the scurrying about of his Cabinet and U.N. Ambassador, Nikki Haley, in an effort to explain their boss’s decision to act unilaterally without so much as a telephone call or Tweet to our allies in the region. Trump’s refusal to shake the hand of Germany’s Merkel upon her first meeting with him at the White House and his rude regard for Theresa May of the United Kingdom do not exactly spell positive working relationships during wartime. Of course, Syria’s proxies have already met Donald Trump’s money—- millions, in fact. Of course, he has assured us that his primary concern is for America’s well-being and “America First” is his policy. The problem with this policy is that it flies in the face of diplomacy, rendering it useless. His constant attacks upon his predecessor illustrate his hypocrisy. His illogical hatred of Barack Obama means he will act in an opposite manner, even though Obama did not waste eight years insulting our enemies who have nuclear weapons, such as North Korea. If one of his goals of attacking Syria was to warn the North Koreans, he could have found a better way to do this than by poking the eyes of Iran, Russia and Syria.
Theodore Roosevelt may have had his detractors, but his “speak softly but carry a big stick” is as relevant today as it was over 100 years ago. Donald Trump thinks it is a good foreign policy to engage in unprovoked attacks that have zero-sum gains, using his “big stick” without dialogue. The 59 missiles did not take out a single aircraft, nor did they reduce Assad’s chemical stockpiles one ounce. In fact, Assad’s planes were back in the skies today, engaged in their usual indiscriminate bombing runs. Under Obama’s watch, Assad was forced to give up two tons of chemical weapons to the Europeans to be destroyed. It is not known if he held back some of these agents or simply acquired more after his stockpile was reduced in 2013. Assad turned briefly to using chlorine gas on his people, so it would appear logical that he had to find more chemical agents with a more lethal effect.
One aspect of Trump’s attack on Syria that no one is discussing here in the U.S. is what might happen to her ally Israel should Assad decide to vent his anger on Israelis directly since they are geographically closer and just as deserving of Assad’s ire as the U.S. Again, true diplomacy would have been a better choice than lobbing missiles onto Syrian soil. The fact that Donald Trump has yet to appoint a single person under the Secretary of State’s position to engage in diplomatic efforts shows that he is clueless as to the necessity of talking before shooting or having the support staff of thousands of American government employees with the proper level of expertise to call upon in matters of this nature. His disregard for realpolitik shows he is only thinking of himself and the “optics” of a response, regardless of how many Syrians were gassed. A real “Presidential” leader cares for others and has the legal policies and practices in place to respond appropriately to horrors such as the attacks in Idlib last week. The fact that Bashar al-Assad has destroyed his entire country, displacing millions and murdering a half-million of his own people indicates the world is not dealing with a sane individual. Having someone in charge in the U.S. who suffers from extreme narcissism and blind and willful ignorance and sadly, seems proud of it, is not going to lead to a better prognosis for peace in the region.