The Trump Administration’s Shift on Syria Isn’t Theater
by Michael Darr
Make no mistake about it, Trump’s attack on the Shayrat airfield was an unprovoked act of war. It wasn’t a warning shot, 4D chess, Kabuki theater, strength posturing, an ostentatious way to defeat the “Russian puppet” narrative, or a signal that we finally have a President with a big ol’ pair of balls. From the way things are looking, it wasn’t a one-off attack. It was the beginning of Trump’s embrace of the policies espoused by his campaign rivals Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton.
Much of the public’s outrage against the Shayrat missile strike(which predominantly came from Trump’s own base) calmed down once the prospect for an immediate ground invasion of Syria was put to rest. People sedated themselves in falsehoods about what exactly happened. They were told there were no casualties, despite 16 reported dead (7 soldiers and 9 civilians, one of whom was a child). They were told the Syrians and Russians were warned in advance of the airstrike, despite Secretary of State Rex Tillerson confirming this was not the case. They didn’t acknowledge the fact that ISIS used the strike as an opportunity to raid the nearby town of al-Furqalas. They heard Tillerson reassure the public, saying “Our priority in Syria…really hasn’t changed. I think the President has been quite clear. First and foremost, we must defeat ISIS.” They didn’t bother to consider what comes second or third on the President’s agenda.
President Trump ran on a platform of relative non-interventionism, especially with regards to the war against Assad, which he staunchly criticized as a private citizen and on the campaign trail, including during his second debate against Hillary Clinton when he threw his own running-mate under the bus to stress this position. Much of Trump’s core supporters, sick and tired of decades upon decades of endless wars in the Middle East that don’t serve American interests, were motivated to vote for him out of a hope that his actions would match his words in this regard.
According to the Associated Press, Trump will be issuing new sanctions against Syria as early as next week as part of its crackdown against its government and those who support it. Across the board, the rhetoric of Trump cabinet members has been volatile against Assad. UN Ambassador Nikki Haley told CNN host Jake Tapper “regime change is something that we think is going to happen” National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster told Fox News Sunday, “It’s very difficult to understand how a political solution could result form the continuation of the Assad regime.” Rex Tillerson told reporters in Italy “the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end.”
At no point have any of these cabinet members broken the fourth wall, turned to the audience, and given us a wink and a grin. It’s time people stopped kidding themselves that this is all for show. Real actions have been taken toward increased hostility with Syria. People have already died. Threats are continuously being made. Trump’s administration appears committed now to a continuation of the same foreign policy of his failed rivals and forbearers.
This isn’t to say there will necessarily be a full-scale boots-on-the-ground invasion of Syria, as certain rumors have suggested. Trump could simply follow his predecessor’s lead and use Arab mercenary forces to carry out the ground combat. As we’ve seen over the course of Obama’s administration, the U.S. public is less resistant against war fought in such a manner because Americans have less skin in the game. The consequence, however, is that these mercenaries inevitably turn on us in a big way at some point or another, as we saw from both al-Qaeda and ISIS. The other consequence is that once Assad collapses, al-Qaeda or some identical Salafi-Wahhabi terrorist militia will take control of a country with a Mediterranean coast.
President Assad’s military is a major regional force fighting ISIS and various al-Qaeda linked groups who have murdered Americans on our own soil, something the Syrians have never even threatened to do. On the contrary, former Secretary of State Colin Powell has stated that after 9/11, while under Bashar al-Assad’s leadership, Syria was providing “actionable information [on al-Qaeda and terrorists]that helped save American lives.”
Candidate Trump warned us that if Assad’s government was overthrown by U.S. intervention, something much worse would replace it. President Trump should heed this advice.