President Trump and Tomahawks

I am not against the use of Tomahawk missiles against Syria.

I am not for it, either.


This issue is so terribly complicated that I’m pretty sure I’ll never fully understand all the variables at play. The use of that awesome and effective United States Military power changed the course of Trump’s presidency. For me, that calls for a little Monday Morning Quarterbacking and analysis of what might be going on.

First, let’s examine some facts.

  1. Assad used chemical weapons.
  2. President Obama told Assad not to do that.
  3. President Obama failed to enforce the ‘red line’ in Syria.
  4. Donald Trump vehemently protested any action in Syria in 2013 and while campaigning.
  5. Syria is under Russian hegemony.

Now, let’s amass some opinions. Opinions aren’t bad, they just must be viewed differently than facts.

  1. Most everyone in the world agrees that using chemical weapons is a crime against humanity.
  2. Some people think POTUS should have come to congress before taking action.
  3. Other people think POTUS had authorization for this under previous resolutions in congress.
  4. Militarily, Syria poses no threat to us, however Russia’s presence makes things sloppy.
  5. The United States is one of the few nations on earth with both the ability and the moral authority to act.
  6. Many of the ‘hot spots’ in the world, particularly ISIS, are so hot because Barack Obama was not aggressive on the international front and projected weakness. This is evidenced from Ukraine to Iran to Nigeria.

Having some facts in hand, and some opinions, now let’s think about the politics.

  1. A lot of Trump voters were for him because he advocated a policy that indicated he would not entangle himself in international messes. Repeatedly he said things would be better if we just left things alone.
  2. POTUS and Putin have an interesting relationship, one that has been under a great deal of scrutiny.
  3. Trump has criticized the United States’ intelligence gathering communities.
  4. Last week North Korea launched a missile.
  5. China’s leader, President Xi Jinping, was in Trump’s hotel in Mar-a-Lago when the missiles were launched against Syria.
  6. There is some kind of power struggle going on in the White House between the globalist son-in-law Jared Kushner and the nationalist Steve Bannon. It appears in this issue, POTUS went to Jared.

Perhaps now we can do some analysis.

  1. It is possible that POTUS changed his opinion based upon intelligence information, policy arguments, and the weight of the office of President. Perhaps he had a legitimate change of mind because of the evidence presented to him from the intelligence communities. This would be encouraging.
  2. It is also possible that POTUS recognizes he is in trouble over Russia and the internecine struggles within his staff that have resulted in an administration that is undisciplined, disconnected, and unsure of itself. To fix this image problem and divert attention, he did what others (remember Reagan invading Grenada, or Clinton bombing aspirin factories?) have done, and that is trump up (no pun intended) a national security issue. This particularly gives him cover on the Russia issue. A person friendly or beholden to Putin would not have done this. This line of thought is very discouraging.
  3. Maybe, just maybe, the real target of the Tomahawks was not Syria, but North Korea. I think the America people possibly feel this in their gut, because we recognize what a fighter does. A fighter punches someone in the face to get everyone’s attention in order to send the message that if they don’t fall in line, they are next. Last week POTUS said, “If China doesn’t fix North Korea, we will,” and then, as if to add some muscle to that, he bombs Syria while the leader of China is eating dinner at the Florida White House. This line of thought is chilling, but clever. Clever in its churchillian approach, but chilling in that it signals a heightened military presence around the world.

Now, for some Greenbean opinions.

  1. The Middle-East is not a puzzle to be solved. Something should be done about Assad, but it will not really solve anything. We are still trying to figure out how to put things back together after they broke it all following World War I. What is broken in that part of the world is the culture, and politics can’t really fix culture.
  2. If there were no oil there, no one would care. Look at Africa. No one is worried about the refugees coming over to Uganda from Sudan because of the violence. There is no oil there. No one cares. This seems to rob much of these issues of their moral clamor.
  3. Tomahawk missiles do nothing in the struggle in Syria. If we really wanted to make a difference in Syria, we must land ground troops, overthrow Assad, and build a national coalition. Of course, that is what we did in Iraq, and we see how that works. Again, there are no good solutions.
  4.  If this continues, it is only a matter of time before we are in a proxy war with Russia in Syria (or Iran) as well as a proxy war with China in Korea. Again.


II want to put on record that I’m not really feeling the whole “Bomb Syria” thing.  I’m channeling my inner George Lucas on this one.  You know what I’m talking about–in every Star Wars film some character, somewhere, says “I have a bad feeling about this.”  That line is usually uttered about the time things fall apart.

For consistencies sake, I had a similar bad feeling about Iraq and Afghanistan but no one  was listening.  I remember having a meal with a friend of mine at the time of the invasion of Iraq and we talked about it at length.  We decided that we shouldn’t invade, but that this is what empires do and this is what militaries want to do.  We were kind of fatalistic about it because we knew no one was listening. Please be mindful that I am not against the use of military and I am not a pacifist per se.  Sometimes the military option is the only viable option and those who serve our country in the fighting forces are among the bravest and noblest people in the world.  I was against invading Afghanistan and Iraq  because I didn’t really think it would solve any of the problems.  Those wars were more about vengeance for 9-11, and I understand why people felt he way they did, but as a historian I just don’t see how military action helped anything in those places.  It’s like we never learn from our past.

Now, back to Syria.  I just don’t think this collision course our government has set is a very good idea.  Here is why.

1.  If we strike Syria, will is end the bloodshed and violence.  No.  It will not.  If we attack it will escalate violence.  More children will die if we attack than if we do not.

2.  Our leaders seem very convinced that they know exactly what happened with the chemical weapons in Syria–that it was Assad who released them as an act of aggression.  These are the same officials who didn’t know what happened in Benghazi and who seemed surprised by the Arab spring’s origins in Iran where they allowed it to be brutally suppressed with almost no support from the West.

3.  Senator Susan Collins from Maine said yesterday that one of the reasons she was ‘undecided’ about action in Syria is that the “credibility” of the President of the United States had to be maintained.  I’m sorry, but saving face is not a good reason to kill anyone, ever.

4.  I can’t believe President Obama really wants to attack Syria.  I just can’t.  Therefore, if he attacks, then something else is going on.  When President Bush invaded Iraq (not Afghanistan) I argued that even though I was against it, I will support the President because I’ve got to believe he knows something I do not.  If Obama ends up leading us to attack Syria, I’ve got to likewise believe he knows something we do not because, and this might sound harsh, a dictator far away who is mean to his own people doesn’t seem just cause for the United States to get involved.  Obama can’t want this, so something else is at play.

5.  As a child of the Cold War I don’t trust Russia.  Whatever Putin says is to be viewed with great suspicion, but I do believe he is looking for a chance to reclaim Cold War status as a superpower and he will use Syria to do it.  I am not afraid of World War III erupting, but I am afraid of a Korea or Vietnam–distant wars fighting an enemy well supplied by Russia, China, or Iran.

6.  Israel.  Nothing we do in the Middle East should be done without thinking about the impact of one our true ally in the region.  If we attack Syria it will magnify the instability of Egypt and Libya.  The result will be that we will have created an even greater powder keg for the Israelis and that doesn’t seem like a good thing.

7.  Lebanon.  Does anyone else remember the Marines in Lebanon in 1983?  We were just trying to help then too.

I predict there will be no strike against Syria.  This is all just brinkmanship–Cold War style–and the threat of intervention is designed to get a response from Russia, which we got yesterday.  At least, that is what I am hoping for.