Having been a relentless critic of Trump, I will give the Devil his due. I approve of the Syrian airstrike. I’m glad it was done.
President Obama’s passivity on Syria was execrable. Early in the conflict we might very possibly have achieved something greatly serving our interests. Inaction as well as action has risks and consequences; in this case they were horrific. And then the “red line” fiasco made things even worse, shredding U.S. credibility. Obama let himself be played for a fool by Putin with a phony deal to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons, which they were never seriously going to honor. And when Assad later resumed chemical attacks, Obama had little choice but to look the other way. The latest chemical attack was indeed one of many, if perhaps a particularly egregious one.
Around a hundred were killed, which Trump said significantly changed his view of the Assad regime. A really stunning thing to say, considering the 400,000 killed in this 6-year-long atrocity, with millions (half Syria’s population) made refugees (whom Trump still refuses to help), and the well-documented reports of industrial-scale torture venues where tens of thousands, including many children, have been murdered in hideous ways. After all this, a hundred deaths changed his mind? Does he even have one?
At least, in contrast to Obama’s sorry record, Trump not only acted, but acted swiftly, with no second-guessing or crawling fecklessly to Congress for an unlikely approval. And at least, as David Brooks commented, this moves Trump toward a somewhat normal presidency, with America again the upholder of an international system.
However, while our action was long overdue, it wasn’t much of one. Hardly even a pinprick, it changes nothing (and might actually prolong the war, that we still have no plan for ending). Better an airstrike on a significant target, like a command-and-control facility. Like, say, the presidential palace. And better yet if Assad is home.