The drums of war are beating again. Since the Assad regime’s chemical weapon attack that killed over 70 in Syria, the interventionists are back to their old game: “we have to do something.”
Never mind what the effects of “something” are, even though they may be far worse than the status quo. “Something has to be done.”
There’s a reason Hell is a bottomless pit in mythology and religion: things can always get worse. No matter how bad things in Syria are now, they can get worse. Infinitely worse. Thursday afternoon, Trump launched a missile strike on the air-base believed to be the origins of the attacks.
God-willing, rationality will prevail, and this proposed military action won’t go much further than “flexing our muscles;” rather than “regime change and a no-fly zone.”
That is where things would get worse, though any military action at this point carries a strong risk of strengthening people we don’t want to strengthen.
Regime change for Assad requires a substantial ground force. With Assad gone, the only thing approaching a functional government in Syria – outside of ISIS – will be gone. The refugee crisis will get worse.
Speaking of ISIS, eliminating Assad or establishing a no-fly zone benefits them directly. Granted, ISIS is much weaker than it was several years ago, but not so weak we can eliminate their primary opponent in Syria without consequence.
This is not to mention the potential war with Russia that could arise from establishing a no-fly zone without their consent. A no-fly zone means no flying, which means that Russian aircraft, if Russia is not part of the agreement, would have to be forced out of the zone. I don’t have to tell you about the potential of something like that to escalate into serious conflict.
But setting all the potential consequences of further action aside, the interventionists don’t seem to be aware that we’re already “doing something” in Syria. There’s some kind of group amnesia here; the US is directly and heavily involved, right now, in Syria and Iraq. But don’t let the facts get in the way of the messianic complex of America’s foreign policy establishment.
Donald Trump, who, admittedly, I believed had the potential to be a great success in foreign policy, seems to have had serious a change of heart. Despite railing against the Obama administration’s desire to involve themselves in Syria after the last far worse chemical weapon attack in 2013, Trump’s heard the Good News of messianic foreign policy. In his own words, the latest attack crossed “many, many lines. Beyond a red line, many, many lines.”
One wonders what’s changed since 2013. Maybe Trump considers it a personal insult that Assad would do this while Trump was President, while it’s par for the course that Assad would use nerve gas on children when Obama was president.
The potential of Trump’s presidency to be one of détente and non-interventionism is decreasing. Steve Bannon, the most powerful force for a restrained foreign policy in Trump’s inner circle, was kicked out of the National Security Council. According to the New York Times, the move was a deliberate demotion and Bannon threatened to quit altogether over it.
And let’s not forget about General Flynn, another force for foreign policy restraint with Russia who was fired. The people driving Trump’s foreign policy, at least in rhetoric, these days are UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, Secretary of Defense Mattis, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
None of these three share Trump’s “America First” foreign policy ideology or affinity for a rapprochement with Russia. There’s been an evolution of the Trump foreign policy, towards standard interventionist establishment positions.
Clearly, the Russians are aware of this. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, a close ally of Putin, said that the missile strike has brought the US and Russia “to the brink of a military clash.”
Another Russian official said at the UN “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.”
US diplomats have again taken an aggressive tone with Russia. Secretary Tillerson stated “we think it’s time that the Russians really need to think carefully about their continued support for the Assad regime.”
With the standard flourish of a UN Ambassador, Nikki Haley called out the Russians specifically for the catastrophe in Syria, asking “how many more children have to die before Russia cares?”
Neither Tillerson’s nor Haley’s statements are incorrect. Russia does bear some of the moral responsibility for the atrocities of the Assad regime. But these latest statements and actions are indicative of a serious change in the attitude of the Trump administration towards Putin and Assad. Less than 100 days into the administration, and Trump has already fallen in the foreign policy establishment’s traps.