The images from Syria of children and other townspeople gasping for breath, dead or dying from the sarin bombs dropped by their own government, filled our screens and shocked our sensibilities. Essentially no different than the normal carnage inflicted by this evil dictator, yet still somehow beyond the pale.
Another difference: the Viewer-in-Chief is now a man whose reality seems to be most formed by what is broadcast through the screen. Seeing the aftermath of this particular attack might have genuinely affected him. Within hours, plans were underway for a military response that would leave talking heads spinning all weekend. A fundamental campaign stance of candidate Trump– nonintervention for America First– was left up in the airwaves as the President appears to have switched channels.
Whether we are witnessing the initial days of a new, well thought out strategy (unlikely), or we are trapped in a weird remake of the film, “Wag the Dog” (whimsical), or this is the foreign policy analog to making 4 AM tweets or other pronouncements based on last night’s Fox news commentary (hmmm), the Friday airstrike against Syria was significant. And, I have to say, welcome.
I’ve heard and read enough on this the past three days to appreciate a few things, starting with the consensus that a solution in Syria remains difficult and incredibly complicated. While the violence seems all-consuming, that solution will have to be political rather than military. Russia will be key and must be persuaded or coerced into helping. The United States cannot accomplish this unilaterally.
What was accomplished on Friday was getting the world’s attention. I liked how someone put it this morning. The sheriff walked in and fired his pistol in the air. That stopped the action, in this case very likely no more gas attacks in the near future. Now, everyone is looking to see what Trump will do next. Will National Security Advisor McMaster or Secretary of Defense Mattis prevail on the President to allow for smart strategic planning, follow up, and diplomacy? Or will something on TV this week set us on some other course?
So, why else was it significant? And why welcome?
The world has watched for six years while Assad has slaughtered 400,000-500,000 of his own people and displaced 5 million more. The world has continued to stand by while Russia has joined and enabled the Syrian butcher. Diplomatic efforts have so far failed.
In Kosovo in 1999, genocide was only stopped when US-led NATO airstrikes were added to the diplomatic efforts. Five years earlier, in Rwanda, there was a UN attempt at peacekeeping, but no military intervention from the West to put a halt to the eventual genocide of an estimated 800,000 people.
This surprising willingness from the new President to use military force against Assad has at least the potential to change the scenario in Syria. It has signaled hope that perhaps other nations will muster the will to stand up for the Syrian people.
I wrote last week that schools teach children to resist bullies by getting help from the adults. But I have to admit, there are times we really want to see, and all cheer when, someone walks up to the bully and just lets him have it.
Nice punch, Mr. President.