Trump Goes Full Bush In Syria
In case you've missed the headlines over the past twelve hours, last night a joint American-English-French force struck Bashar al-Assad regime in retaliation to the chemical attack on Syrian civilians last week. The joint strike group bombed a chemical storage center and a command facility in Homs, along with hitting a military research establishment in the capital of Damascus. No casualties have been reported yet on either side, but the strikes have allegedly impaired Syrian military capabilities. Just as the President stood before the camera's at 9 PM EST, jet bombers lit up the skies over Syria.
The strikes come at a time when it otherwise seems that the civil war is winding down. Despite violent battles raging between the rebels and the al-Assad government, ISIS has lost over 60% of the territory they held at their peak in 2014. The rebels have been pushed back to several small border pockets, mostly thanks to disorganization within the rebellion and the support for the Syrian government by Russia. It appears now only a matter of time before the opposition is defeated, leaving the northern Kurdish stronghold (who seem to have greater US support than the rebels) as the Syrian governments last threat.
Following a similar gas attack last April, President Trump ordered nearly 60 cruise missiles to hit a Syrian airfield. While keeping the strike limited, and unmanned, he attempted to send a clear signal that the West would not tolerate the use of internationally banned weapons, especially when used against civilians. Trump sought to limit the attack though, as to avoid the US from getting sucked into another endless Middle Eastern war.
The strike last night differs however in that not only was it conducted in close cooperation with major NATO allies, but also in that it deployed, for the first time, manned military assets directly against the al-Assad regime. In announcing the bombings Trump stated that the Syrian gas attack was not "the actions of a man, they are crimes of a monster" and that "we are prepared to sustain this response."
Trumps words may indicate a shifting stance, when just weeks ago he stated he wants US forces to leave Syria "very quickly." The President has recently dismissed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Advisor HR McMaster, two longtime proponents of diplomacy, and has sought to replace them with Mike Pompeo and John Bolton, respectively. Both men are widely considered to be hawkish in their stances on foreign affairs, with Bolton in particular being of concern. As George Bush's Ambassador to the UN, Bolton warned Bush about the growing stockpile of WMD's Iraq possessed, a claim later found to be false.
On the campaign trail, Trump was considered to be a paleoconservative in regards to foreign policy. He consistently denied supporting the Iraq War, despite being quoted on Howard Stern supporting the actions in the early days of the conflict. He also believed it was time for some nation building back home, echoing the words of former president Obama in 2011. Trump's stance on trade and immigration also contributed to his paleocon reputation.
Bush however, is widely considered a neoconservative in that he believes it is the duty of the free world to spread democracy by any means necessary. He signed a plethora of free-trade agreements with nations across the globe, and sought sweeping immigration reform that would grant 12 million illegally residing aliens a path to US citizenship. Trump, as we've seen, is polar opposite in his views on these issues.
Following the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Bush delivered his infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, in which he announced the end of major US military operations in Iraq. What followed of course, was nearly a decade of bloody insurgency rebellion, that ultimately claimed more American lives than the invasion itself.
At the conclusion of last nights attack, the President took to his favorite medium, Twitter, to proclaim victory.
Of course, Syria is not Iraq and Trump has repeatedly indicated he's not interested in regime change, whereas Bush never hid his love for the idea. As it stands, few American ground troops are stationed in Syria, excluding special forces and military advisers, and it doesn't appear a major force is being assembled anytime soon.
After last years strike, al-Assad and his Russian allies swore to retaliate, but little action followed. It's too early to tell if last night indicated an escalation of Syria, or if it will deter them from gassing their own civilians, but it has unintentionally mimicked the actions of Trump's unpopular Republican predecessor.