One week ago, President Trump ordered a Tomahawk missile attack Shayrat Airfield in Syria from which a chemical attack was launched on April 4. Airstrikes hit the rebel-held city of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province on Tuesday morning, giving off a “poisonous gas,” according to Anas al-Diab, an activist with the Aleppo Media Center,
Trump ordered the strike against Syria early Friday local time in retaliation for the chemical weapons attack that killed 86 people on Tuesday, he said.
Trump said Syrian President Bashar Assad “launched a horrible chemical attack on innocent civilians using a deadly nerve agent. Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children. It was a slow and brutal death for so many. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered at this very barbaric attack. No child of God should ever suffer such horror.”
The counter-attack essentially follows the plan that the Pentagon had set in September 2013, according to a senior Defense official not authorized to speak publicly about the operation. That plan was devised after President Obama had set a “red line” on the use of chemic weapons. Assad had used the weapons, which killed 1,400 civilians, but Obama did not order an attack.
Instead, Assad agreed to turn over his stockpiles of chemical weapons, a pledge he obviously reneged on in light of Tuesday’s use of what experts believe was sarin gas on civilians.
In 2013, military planners had planned to use land-attack cruise missiles launched from Navy destroyers cruising off shore from Syria. For weeks, the Navy had four destroyers floating offshore; waiting for the order to strike that never came.
Russian officials warned Trump against the recent military strikes.
“We have to think about negative consequences, negative consequences, and all the responsibility if military action occurred will be on shoulders of those who initiated such doubtful and tragic enterprise,” said Vladimir Safronkov, Russia’s deputy envoy to the United Nations, speaking with reporters at the U.N.
Evidently, even Conservative pundits have been thinking about all those possible negative consequences. They’ve reproved Trump for thinking “emotionally” instead of “rationally.” After the Tomahawk launch, Russia moved a naval force into the area to confront the U.S. naval forces that had launched the attack.
So far, there have been no negative repercussions. But one positive consequence has been that China has agreed to chasten North Korea for its nuclear missile threats on behalf of the United States. China has sent the coal it had ordered back to the Hermit Kingdom, which would have to be a serious economic blow to North Korea, and ordered its much-needed coal from the United States, instead.
Counter-claims from Assad that Syrian forces did not launch the attack on the rebel city have had their intended effect; pundits – liberal and conservative alike – have been chastising Trump for what they consider a hasty action that may never have required a response at all.
According to them, Trump was moved to make an “emotional” decision driven by his daughter Ivanka (who was converted to Orthodox Judaism by her marriage to Jared) over a series of what they consider inauthentic photographs.
Only six people – air force personnel – were killed in the strike on the air base. During the Russian Missile Crisis in October of 1962, millions of Americans on the Eastern Seaboard waited in terror for nearly two weeks while the United States faced down the Soviet Union as it attempted to place nuclear weapons at a base in Cuba.
Pres. Kennedy was lauded for his courage, tempered by later revelations that he also closed military bases on the Turkish border with Russia. We were frightened, much more so than after last week’s retaliatory attack on an empty air base in Syria. Russian missile cruisers and submarines were known to be right off our coast. The threat was 90 miles off the coast of Florida; it was lurking in the waters off of New York, Washington, D.C., and possibly Boston.
We here in the New York metropolitan area knew we wouldn’t stand a chance if negotiations went badly or if Khrushchev decided to launch a “pre-emptive” strike. Kennedy gambled – and won. The missile bases were removed from Cuba.
And later, Turkey.
Critics would say that this wasn’t the same sort of crisis. No Americans were being threatened and that we shouldn’t have gotten involved. That was Franklin Roosevelt’s thinking on the holocaust going on against the Jews in German-occupied Europe. It wasn’t “our” problem. He’d promised American mothers that their sons would never again die in a European war, as they did in World War I (for which many American men actually volunteered).
Trump’s cause was not strictly military, although the strike certainly sent a message to China about North Korea. Initially, he didn’t want to get Americans involved. During the campaign, he said he didn’t approve of America getting involved in foreign conflicts. Neither did George Washington.
Ultimately, his “emotions” got the better (or worse, if you’re a pundit) of him. The rebels in Syria happen to be affiliated with ISIS, so whose side would we be on if we did get involved? However, the six-year Syrian civil war is having an effect on American – thousands of Syrians are fleeing into Europe, and into America, as refugees.
Wars are for armies. How often in the 20th Century – and now the 21st Century – have combatants, including the United States, ignored that age-old imperative? Would wars ever end if civilians didn’t suffer? Tyrants consider civilians pawns in the game. As long as they use civilians as shields – or targets – democracies are obliged to respond, sometimes in kind.
Trump took the humanitarian route and for this he is being soundly criticized. There are no “good guys” in the Syrian Civil War, no side on which decency can plant its flag. Syrian is now all but a flattened desert.
Sending a Tomahawk message of “Knock it off!” requires a hide of iron, a certain conviction that the “gamble” is worth taking, and an emotional sensibility of standing up for humanity.
So what exactly did Trump get wrong? Requiting innocent civilians? Having the caginess to send that message while having dinner with the president of China? Recognizing and sympathizing with the suffering of children and doing something about it, rather than turning his head to rationalize inaction?
Give me a break and save us all from quivering ninnies. Those of us who remember the Cuban Missile Crisis understand the risks we must take – New York City is a target, so it’s not just our brave military who are potentially in harm’s way – for democracy and humanity.