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Outsiders vs. Insiders: Collateral political harm from Trump’s Syria strike impossible to measure

With numbed anticipation the nation looked on over the weekend as news reports of American missiles flying in Syria once again streamed across TV screens. The strike President Donald Trump promised came sooner rather than later, squelching hopes from a good many conservatives that he may not have been serious in vowing a military response to the purported chemical weapons attack that took place in the war-torn country the previous week.

Trump SyriaA few Republicans were happy, of course. Whereas Obama only threatened “red lines” Trump kept his hand fastened to the red “fire” button – and pushed it with impunity.

For most of us, however, I’m guessing a feeling of “Uh oh, what now?” was the initial reaction.

As far as the president himself, he seemed satisfied with the decision and was humbled by the American military’s proficiency with taking out Syrian targets.

Mandy Mayfield of the Washington Examiner reported, “President Trump on Saturday praised the ‘perfectly executed’ strikes against Syria, which were carried out the previous night by the U.S, the United Kingdom, and France in response to a deadly chemical weapons attack.

“’A perfectly executed strike last night,’ Trump wrote on Twitter. ‘Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine Military. Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished.’

“’So proud of our great Military which will soon be, after the spending of billions of fully approved dollars, the finest that our Country has ever had. There won’t be anything, or anyone, even close!’ he added in another tweet.”

While it’s true there will be billions more dedicated to the military as the result of the recently pushed through omnibus spending bill, the American fighting forces are already acknowledged as the best in the world. Is there anything close even now?

From official government accounts of the strike we gather only certain Syrian military sites were targeted and hit. “Surgical strikes” is probably the proper term for them. Americans are supposed to rest comfortably knowing our men in arms went after only the bad guys and no “good” guys and kids were blown up in the assault.

Of course we’ll never really know because Syria is halfway around the world and the only news reporting we receive from the ground is through government sources who tell us only what they want us to know. Do you think they’d really say, “Hey, we blew up all the chemical weapons factories and a few hundred civilians who were too close to the bombs bit it too!”

Forgive me for my skepticism – and I’m inclined to believe the president on this matter – but some of us Trump supporters are having a hard time understanding how or why he’d break a campaign promise (again) to stay out of the mess that is the Middle East. Unless there’s a definable U.S. interest in the region, what’s the justification for taking out Syrian targets?

True, chemical weapons are heinous. Perhaps after all the stories of such weapons being used to euthanize thousands of troops in World Wars I and II (not to mention the gas chambers of the Holocaust) people just associate such things with an elevated degree of barbarity. Trump may be right that only a “monster” (his name for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad) would order an attack on his own people, but would anyone truly feel mollified if the innocents had been killed by conventional warfare methods instead?

The White House is obviously trying to sterilize the situation by emphasizing the strikes were narrowly administered and effective. Mayfield additionally reported, “Echoing Trump's tweet, a Pentagon spokeswoman said Saturday morning that the coalition strike was successful and all the missiles hit their targets.

“’I can assure you we took every measure and precaution to strike only what we targeted ... and we successfully hit every target,’ chief spokesperson Dana White told reporters. ‘We do not seek conflict in Syria, but we cannot allow such grievous violations of international law.’”

America may not seek conflict in Syria but when we’re lofting munitions from afar and destroying Syrian property – a “conflict” is what we’re getting whether we want it or not. With a host of international interests involved in the country, every military action is instantly magnified and perceived as a slight against their own pursuits.

The Russians are there of course, as are the Iranians, Kurds, Turks, Hezbollah and the remnants of ISIS and al Qaeda. The Israelis want as much American presence there as possible to help prevent the Shiite powers (Syrian, Iranian and Hezbollah) from becoming too potent. Even Saudi Arabia agrees with Israel on the need to combat the threat. Similarly, the Turks (supposedly our NATO allies) have an interest because they are battling against Kurdish independence.

Syria is a huge predicament where friend is practically indistinguishable from foe.

The “conflict” has found the United States whether we asked for it or not. Trump’s recent instincts were correct – it’s time for the administration to bring our forces home (said to number about 2000 in northern Syria, situated between the Turks and Kurds and supposedly there to assist in the war on ISIS).

Besides, why would Assad gas his own people when he knew it would likely draw such a response? I’m no Middle East expert but my guess is Assad wants the U.S. involved so as to prevent the Turks from overwhelming the Kurds – or the Kurds gaining independence and their own state. Such an occurrence could dramatically increase the Kurds’ power – and Kurds claim a big chunk of northern Syria as their own.

Got all that? Trump’s strike could be taken as a warning to Russia and Iran, but what’s the benefit in doing that?

Aside from the obvious strategic questions associated with bombing Syria, Trump’s action was arguably illegal too. Timothy P. Carney of the Washington Examiner wrote on Saturday, “[A]bsent a congressional authorization … the president is allowed to initiate combat only if we’re under attack.

“In Syria, we are clearly not under attack. Congress hasn’t declared war on anyone since December 1941. So, the question is whether President Trump can point to some ‘specific statutory authorization’ to launch missiles at Syria’s military…

“President Trump seems to be doing the same thing (as Obama did in Libya) in Syria — missile attacks without congressional authorization. The precedent of previous presidents’ illegal, unauthorized wars doesn’t make Trump’s unauthorized war legal. Regardless of the moral justification or the practical wisdom of this attack (and I doubt both), it’s deeply corrosive of the rule of law for a president to go to war through unconstitutional means.”

Many conservative commentators (and elected lawmakers such as Sen. Rand Paul and Reps. Thomas Massie and Justin Amash) have advanced the same argument. Simply put, the president cannot decide on his own to bomb anyone. Absent some sort of national emergency, the Constitution requires congressional authorization for military action. That didn’t happen here.

Trump looks to be following on the mistakes of his predecessors, both Republican and Democrat. George W. Bush and Barack Obama were able to avoid any electoral consequences for their arguably unconstitutional actions. Will Trump be as fortunate?

The president’s ill-advised choice to use the words “Mission Accomplished” in his first tweet wasn’t the smartest move either. Daniel Chaitin of the Washington Examiner reported, “Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer advised President Trump that using the words ‘mission accomplished’ to celebrate the U.S. and allies' strike on Syrian targets was a bad idea…

“Fleischer, who served as press secretary for President George W. Bush between 2001 and 2003, said he ‘would have recommended ending this tweet with not those two words.’”

We don’t know if Trump was fatigued and didn’t realize what he was doing at the time (he sent out the Tweet at 5:21 a.m. on Saturday morning) or simply didn’t connect the “mission accomplished” words with George W. Bush and Iraq – but a media savvy man like the president should have identified what such a message would engender.

While the military situations George W. Bush and Trump face are completely different (with the September 11th attacks providing the motivation behind Bush’s aggressive actions) there are still a lot of parallels. It’s in the same region of the world with many of the same actors involved. The greater conflict (Sunni vs. Shiite) has not been resolved either – and won’t be no matter what the U.S. does.

There is no “fix” in Syria or any other strife-filled land in the Middle East. American foreign policy should be directed towards supporting Israel and other allies like the Kurds – and the rest is up to them. There are no winners “over there” but the potential for plenty of losers, including the civilian populations caught between political and religious enemies. Diplomacy won’t cut it – the best possible set-up is an armistice based on deterrence, mutual respect and for lack of a better way to put it, fear.

Of course Trump drew much ire from establishment Republicans for his overt and direct criticism of George W. Bush during the 2016 presidential primaries, which many conservatives acknowledged was correct and warranted. If the president continues on the path he’s on now, however – getting the nation further entrenched in Syria -- it could very well ruin his initial years in the White House and lead to defeat in 2020.

As would be expected liberals in the media are taking advantage of the events to depict Trump as a political opportunist who is only using the Syria strike to draw attention away from the various investigations surrounding his 2016 campaign.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow’s comments were typical. Diana Stancy Correll of the Washington Examiner reported, “Rachel Maddow addressed the ‘perception’ of President Trump attempting to ‘distract from a catastrophic domestic scandal’ Friday evening, immediately after listening to the commander in chief announce the U.S. had launched a military strike against Syria in response to the chemical attacks carried out against civilians in Syria last weekend.

“’It has national security consequences when the president orders missile strikes on Syria on a night like tonight,’ Maddow said after Trump’s announcement. ‘The strategic effect of that strike will be assessed by both our allies and our enemies.’

“Maddow said that some countries are weighing their role in Syria and are attempting to determine how they will respond to the U.S.’ actions. The timing of the strike will impact how they respond, she said.”

Leave it to looney liberals to inject humor into an otherwise unamusing situation. Insinuating Trump is engaging in a “Wag the Dog” scenario to cover up the lamer than lame domestic issues (propagated by Democrats) is fairly pathetic. Most Americans recognize the raid on Trump’s private attorney last week – and James Comey’s stupid and false book being released – are just part of the continuing leftist crusade to get rid of Trump.

Still, there is room for the political opposition to suggest Trump isn’t being consistent. Other Democrats were quick to point out Trump’s hypocrisy on military action, highlighting the now president’s 2013 tweet criticizing Obama for a strike on Syria.

What’s changed now?

The days and weeks ahead will reveal the damage inflicted from Friday night’s strike in Syria. With military satellites, the on-the-ground destruction will be relatively easy to assess; far more uncertain is the fallout from Trump’s failing to keep his promises to stay out of the Middle East.

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