I am currently at a meeting in Chicago and have not had the opportunity to fully digest everything that is happening currently in Syria. But I do think that we need to be careful here.
It seems to me that the primary problem is NOT that the United States has commenced military strikes in Syria. It’s helpful to remember that into 2013 Barack Obama threatened military action against Syria in the case of the use of chemical weapons. On Syria, Hillary Clinton was actually more bellicose then Trump during the election. She supported the creation of a no-fly zone which would’ve included military incursions to destroy air bases in Syria. So at this point we were apparently likely to be militarily more involved with Syria regardless of who won the election. Further, the use of chemical weapons in Syria that we witnessed recently seems to me to provide prima facie cause for military action on humanitarian grounds.
The problem with the United States military incursion in Syria at this point is not then THAT it happened. It is rather the context in which it happened. When Obama threatened the use of military force in Syria it was combined with diplomatic push that led Syria to hand stockpiles of chemical weapons over to Russia.The idea of establishing a no-fly zone over Syria was part of a long-term strategy that included removing Assad from power.
As recently as last week, contradicting years of US policy, the Trump administration was seeking a normalization of relations with the Assad regime. As I have previously noted, this policy doubtless contributed to the context in which Assad felt comfortable openly deploying chemical weapons. Further, the current military action has been linked to no long-term serious strategy or immediate diplomatic push.
Developing strategy and diplomatic pressure requires time and patience. The Trump administration’s military strike in Syria is AT BEST part of a strategic “madman” approach to foreign policy. This is a foreign policy in which the head of state attempts to appear erratic and irrational enough that opponents limit their actions because they are unsure what reaction the head of state is capable of. AT WORST it is literally the expression of an almost schizophrenic incoherence at the core of the Trump administration. Trump tried to make friends with Assad on the playground and when Assad hurt his feelings Trump decided to break Assad’s toy.
Neither of these options is desirable or constructive. However at the current time it is to be hoped that US military action might have the effect of returning us to the status quo established under the Obama administration concerning the use of chemical weapons in Syria. And over the longer term it must be hoped that this might be the beginning of the formulation of a more adequate foreign policy from the Trump administration.
I’m not going to hold my breath on that last one.