On April 14th, at 4 AM local time, more than one hundred missiles were launched at the targets in Syria by the airplanes and ships of the United States, France, and the United Kingdom. All targets have been connected with the Bashir al-Assad’s ability to conduct chemical warfare, and the strike itself has been a retaliation to the recent chemical attack in Douma.
While the attacks have been successful in destroying its targets and the production and stockpiles of chemical agents of the Syrian regime have been seriously compromised, the mission is far from accomplished, despite what President Trump may have tweeted. The statement rings true just as much it did last time it was uttered by an American President.
These strikes will do little, if anything, to protect Syrian civilian population from Assad’s regime. While they put some dents in his war machine, it won’t be stopped without a serious troop commitment on the ground, something nobody in NATO is willing to even discuss, let alone approve. Truth be told, Mr. Trump did advocate for a more massive strike, a one that will destroy not only chemical facilities, but also airfields and army bases, but was convinced by Secretary of Defense James Mattis to dial it down. Mattis argument was that such huge escalation might provoke a response from Russia, which has a strong military presence in the region and make things even worse in the region.
Trump’s insistence for a decisive strike against Syrian regime seems to be in a direct collision with his plans for the withdrawal of all US troops from Syria. That President Trump’s decisions can be quite contradictory to each other is nothing new, but this time he may outdo even himself. In the end, we got an almost symbolic show of force that did little to either punish Syrian regime or promote American interests in the region.
The reasons for President Trump’s back and forth policy in Syria are unclear. There are several theories, though. The first one is that he agreed to strikes in order to distract public from Mueller investigation and FBI raid on his personal lawyer premises, not to mention the looming release of James Comey’s book. The investigation seems to be uncovering new evidence of collusion and Trump’s position seems weaker by the minute. It is a proven tactic and it is clear that nothing boosts presidential approval ratings as a war, and Trump has gone and got himself just that.
The other theory says that he ordered attacks in order to prove that he isn’t Putin’s puppet and that is why the attack was so impotent. That would make the whole Trump – Mattis conflict we mentioned above a simple theater, aimed at his voters.
While both of these may have some elements of truth and could have played some small part in Mr. Trump’s internal decision-making process, the real reasons behind his decisions are far more dangerous. Mr. Trump doesn’t understand the military. He never did and probably never will. To him, all those shiny airplanes, ships, and missiles are just a symbol of America’s power (and, by extension, his own personal power) rather than an instrument of said power. All that boots on the ground, nation-building, democracy development is boring, time-consuming, and messy and it doesn’t work for Mr. Trump. Press a button and launch a missile and boom, instant gratification. He gets to fulfill his threat about “nice and new and ‘smart!’” missiles and tweet “Mission Accomplished,” all in the same go. The fact that his missiles haven’t accomplished anything useful expect waste few million dollars of the tax-payers money doesn’t even come to Mr. Trump’s mind.
The added bonus is that he can sell missile strikes as something completely different from troops on the ground to his voters. Not only his anti-interventionist base will support any plan that doesn’t involve sending the Marines, but they are also ready to accept this non-effective and basically useless strike as a success. In the end, Mr. Trump has his voters, who can sleep at night safe in the knowledge that their President is trying to untangle them form that Middle Eastern mess Obama put them in. Assad gets to kill as many of his citizens as he needs to stay in power and Russia and Iran get to split Syria. A win-win scenario, really.