Not So Fast: A Note of Caution for the Bipartisan War Party

By | 2017-06-02T18:30:05+00:00 April 7, 2017|
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A screenshot from video footage shot by the Russian state news agency from Al Shayrat airbase in the aftermath of a US air strike on 5 April 2017 Still via TASS

There’s a new sheriff in town.” That’s what David Ignatius said on Morning Joe in response to overnight cruise missile strikes on a Syrian airfield as punishment for using chemical weapons against his own people. John McCain, who hasn’t had a kind word for the President since, well, ever, purred his approval noting that Trump’s national security team is the best in American history.

The bipartisan war party (“BWP”) is feeling good sensing in the missile attack on Syria that President Trump is changing direction. Gone are the days of an America First foreign policy that asks first the question, “How does this protect the American people and their interests?” They sense that the moral imperialism of the Bush years and its concomitant military adventurism are back and with it their return to status and power. In short, they think Trump won the election but that Washington won the peace. It’s been known to happen, but some circumspection is in order.

Sorry BPW, but one missile strike does not mean a new U.S. war in the middle east. And the Trump administration officials that McCain was praising have been very clear about that the president’s Syria policy is true to his campaign promises. In fact, just last week U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, said “You pick and choose your battles. And when we’re looking at this, it’s about changing our priorities, and our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out. Our priority is to really look at how do we get things done, who do we need to work with to really make a difference for the people in Syria.”

The Military Times reports that, “White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the U.S. approach was being driven by a new ‘reality’ and that Assad’s future had to be a decision for the Syrian people. Similar statements were made earlier by U.S. Cabinet members speaking in Ankara, London, and at the United Nations.”

So what does the missile strike mean? Trump supporters are concerned that it signals a return to the neoconservative globalism they roundly rejected last year. One can understand the concern. The attack on Syria is getting good reviews from all the wrong people. NeverTrumper Max Boot is happy. So is Anne Marie Slaughter, a former high ranking official at the State Department under Hillary Clinton who tweeted: “Donald Trump has done the right thing on Syria. Finally!!”

Meanwhile Trump supporters remember that it was Donald Trump himself who tweeted in 2013 that “The President must get Congressional approval before attacking Syria—big mistake if he does not!” That remains true today, if this strike represents part of a bigger shift in policy. But at this point there is no reason to believe that is the case.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said last week, “I think the status and the longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.”

Yet, chemical and nuclear weapons represent a unique threat and while the United States was under no obligation to act, this strike can be seen as statement against the use of weapons of mass destruction. And it is certainly in the national security interests of the United States to see that the use and proliferation of such weapons is not normalized.

Underscoring this, Secretary Tillerson reiterated U.S. policy Friday morning in light of the military action in Syria: “I would not in any way attempt to extrapolate that to a change in our policy or posture relative to our military activities in Syria today. There has been no change in that status.”

Nor does there appear to be any increased appetite for entangling foreign conflicts more generally. Drawing a line—red or otherwise—on the use of chemical weapons does not necessarily indicate a broad change in policy or philosophy. The temptation among the political and pundit class to draw straight line extrapolations from every event is overwhelming yet more often than not leads to false conclusions. It was not so long ago that the same pundits who see the Syria attack as a sign of more to come were telling us that the president who ordered it would never see the inside of the White House. Their crystal ball has been proven to be a bit foggy.

Remember also the broader geopolitical context of this attack. It occurred just before President Trump was set to meet with Chinese Premier Xi about, among other things, North Korean nuclear weapons. And while we don’t want to be drawn into another winless war in the Middle East we do want to remind the world that America’s commitment to peace through strength is more than just rhetoric.

What’s more, this strike may serve a shrewd political purpose. It further blunts the baseless yet oft-repeated charge that Trump is somehow beholden to Vladmir Putin and it has caused some of his strongest critics to offer unstinting praise. Elliot Abrams wrote in The Weekly Standard, “the Trump administration can truly be said to have started only now” and that President Trump “finally accepted the role of Leader of the Free World.”

The fact Abrams and his colleagues only see Trump as fully president when he is waging war abroad speaks volumes about their politics and the critique that Trump and many who support him made of them.

But if, in the afterglow of last night’s cruise missile attacks the BWP sees a return to the Bush era status quo I would urge them caution. And if for the same reason Trump supporters fear betrayal I would urge them patience: A single missile attack need be nothing more than that. To paraphrase Freud, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

About the Author:

Chris Buskirk
Chris is the Publisher and Editor of American Greatness and the host of The Seth & Chris Show. He was a Publius Fellow at the Claremont Institute. and received a Fellowship from the Earhart Foundation. Chris is a serial entrepreneur who has built and sold businesses in financial services and digital marketing. He is a frequent guest on NPR's Morning Edition. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Hill, and elsewhere. Connect with Chris on Twitter at @TheChrisBuskirk
  • CaptSmith415

    Denial.

  • hamburgertoday2017

    Good points. We shall see.

  • After 15 years if not more of unilateral war, no one in the world doubted American military capacity or resolve. Meanwhile everyone doubted whether the United States could demonstrate intelligent statesmanship.

    It is not We the People who should be patient with President Trump, it is President Trump who should be patient with the Middle East and do the necessary hard work.

    This looks like his attempt at Healthcare reform: a few days of negotiating and talking to people and then announce that there’s nothing to be done, the Affordable Care Act will be neither repealed or reformed. Likewise a few meetings getting to know world leaders, no major break through so let’s just revert to the policy of bombing people from time to time.

    It is childish politics and just another step towards American collapse.

    • timcat

      So Optimistic Peter !! Screw the ME and all the muslims !!

  • Michael Schwenk

    You guys should probably give up and shut down.

  • JamesDrouin

    So, is it “BWP”, or “BPW” … or is the author unsure and the editor incompetent???

  • For all the celebration on both the left and the right, there are questions that nag:

    – Did the war hawks in intel sell the President a bill of goods? Did Assad really order the chemical attack on one lonely little building? And if so, why? Did the Russians know in advance?

    – Could the anti-Assad ‘rebels’, who at this point are losing to Assad and the Russians, and would desperately like more American help, have contrived the attack in some way (e.g. swapping a gas bomb for a regular one, or planting the gas in the building they knew would be hit)?

    – Other than reminding everyone what a patsy Obama was, and other than putting the fear of God (and the USA) into the hearts of the North Koreans–laudable aims, to be sure–what exactly was the US national interest in this Tomahawk attack? What’s left of Assad’s Syria is still legally a sovereign nation, and not one with which we are at war. When Ronald Reagan attacked Khadafi in Libya, he was responding to direct provocations. What were they here?

    – Perhaps the most important question is this: What happens to Candidate Trump’s oft-stated aim of joining forces with the Russians to destroy ISIS? The Russians, piqued by the US atttack, even turned off the ‘deconfliction’ system we were both using to avoid air collisions and worse. It is fortuitous that Secretary Tillerson is in Moscow this week, and can perhaps mollify the Russians, who have long had interests in Syria.

    – And is the Trump administration now calling for an end to Assad’s regime, as Obama did? It is worth remembering that for all his faults, Assad and his minority Alawites have been tolerant of sectarian diversity in Syria. Most of the ‘rebels’ we have been supporting are Sunni Islamists, who would destroy all others. Arguably, the devil you know is better than the one you don’t.

    Questions, questions. Who has answers?

    /L. E. Joiner

    • General Mattis has the answers. Here are quotes from him:

      “On Syria, ladies and gentlemen, we are going to have to determine what is the end state we want. This war needs to be ended as rapidly as possible. That’s the bottom line..but if the Americans go in, if the Americans take leadership, if the Americans take ownership of this, it’s going to be a full-throated, very, very serious war. And anyone who says this is going to be easy, that we can do a no-fly zone and it’ll be cheap, I would discount that on the outset….We need to be very clear about our military end state, contributing to what political end state…Otherwise, you’re liable to invade a country, pull down a statue, and then say, ‘Now what do we do?…Why do you want to take out their air support? Is it because they’re using aircraft to kill most of the people on the ground? No, they’re not. They’re using artillery, machine guns, and mortars and snipers. So let’s have a reason for what we’re going to do…”

      From my part – I would add that “they” are the legal government of Syria defending itself and ISIS – which wants to kill us, has attacked Americans and other western targets, and is a threat to the world.

      (source with youtube video: https://theintercept.com/2017/04/07/donald-trumps-own-defense-secretary-warned-in-2013-against-rushing-to-war-against-syria/)

      Unfortunately, Donald Trump lost the election and so this wise man did not become Secretary of Defense. And this is why on the domestic front Obamacare is the law of the land and Syria has now been bombed by President Hillary Clinton. If only Trump had won the election.

      If only Trump had won I am sure he would have used his negotiating skills to patiently build an international coalition to deal effectively with the problem and any eventual military action the United States might take would be in concert with a broad coalition, the approval of Congress and a clear military and political goal. He certainly wouldn’t let another batch of attrocities on TV influence his thinking.

      • The General Mattis quotes are from 2013. In 2013 Mr Trump was also against taking action against Assad. What does Gen. Mattis think now?

        /LEJ

    • Gassius Maximus

      Can one still consider a ‘failed state’ to still be a sovereign nation?

      • ek ErilaR

        As long as it has a seat in the UN, “yes.’ Cf., South Africa, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, El Salvidor and many others.

        • Gassius Maximus

          Well I guess the UN counts if you give it credence. Me, not so much. It is nothing but a criminal, globalist, feckless organization.

      • ‘Failed state’ is a euphemism, not a legal term in any international agreements and charters. Syria is a sovereign state in the eyes of its own government, as well as in the eyes of Russia, Iran, and (as ek ErilaR says) the UN. Of course now that we have special forces in Syria assisting the putative ‘rebels’, we can be said to have already invaded. /LEJ

        • Gassius Maximus

          Then it seems to be a moot point as the media seems to be the arbiter of the definition. The UN does not count in my book, and actors like Russia and Iran have their own game plans, while Syria is being used as a pawn for moving pieces around the ME while the Muslim Brotherhood continues it’s march. I always thought the point of invading Iraq was to put a road block in the path between Iran and the rest of the Arab troublemakers in that neighborhood. But no one seems to have understood that or have been willing to stick to the plan.

        • Gassius Maximus

          I appreciate the reply MrLynn. Thanks!

  • RPDC

    Taking this “glass half full” approach is all well and good, so long as it holds true that Trump is not seeking to oust Assad.

    Otherwise, no brakes will be needed to stop the trump train. It will be off the rails.

    Btw – that was a disingenuous stretch to find a “national interest.” You’re better than that.

  • Sam McGowan

    Unlike most who pontificate about this and that I know a little bit about weapons, and one thing I know is that equating chemical weapons with nuclear is like comparing a raisin to a giant pumpkin. Chemical warfare, as such, is vastly overrated and is feared mainly because of the deaths on the Western Front in The Great War. What is not acknowledged is that far more men (and women and children) died two decades later in flagrations caused by tiny (in comparison to other bombs) incendiary bombs dropped on cities. I personally received a letter of commendation for killing “100” communists in South Vietnam with a single bomb. In short, the term “weapons of mass destruction” is a misnomer when it is only applied to chemical and nuclear weapons.(It should also be remembered that all firearms are chemical weapons in that they use chemicals to propel projectiles – artillery and bombs use chemicals to cause explosions.) What bothers me about the cruise missile attack on Syria is that it is, purely and simply, an act of war by the United States on another sovereign nation. Regardless of our attitudes toward Assad, it is important to remember that he is the legitimate ruler of a nation and his government is legitimate, no matter what we think of his policies. Furthermore, the war in Syria is a civil war and the United States is supporting the rebels, who are made up largely of dissidents who espouse the very beliefs responsible for terrorist attacks throughout the Western world, and attacks on Christians in the Islamic world. I was very disappointed by President Trump’s actions because he took them without any approval by Congress, which is the only entity with the sole power of declaring war – and launching a military attack is an act of war. God only knows what he will do next or where, but I fear that the world is the closest to nuclear war it has ever been. What would happen if Russia launches one or a volley of it’s powerful anti-ship missiles against the destroyers that launched the cruise missiles. The world can afford a military conflict between Russia and the United States. If the US attacks Russia, they will respond and there’s no way to tell if a warhead on an ICBM is nuclear or conventional until it explodes. We may be about to see the destruction of civilization as we know it.

    • Captain Mann

      What, no faith? The world hasn’t arranged itself yet for that final battle, and even then, it won’t be the destruction of civilization. “Wars and rumors of wars.”

  • jack dobson

    “Yet, chemical and nuclear weapons represent a unique threat and while the United States was under no obligation to act, this strike can be seen as statement against the use of weapons of mass destruction.”

    Such weapons in the hands of even Assad is vastly preferable to those weapons in the hands of ISIS, al-Qaeda and all the other Islamist offshoots. The Bipartisan War Party doesn’t give a single damn about the people of the United States and only serves one interest, the military/surveillance state complex. If a Syrian intervention led to an Islamist government in Damascus that corrupt cabal would celebrate if it could peddle its goods and services to the victorious “freedom fighters.”

    I hope this is a one-off. If the Trump Administration is to be successful, it must be a one-of. The handiwork of our “Syrian allies” can be seen in today’s attacks on the Coptic Orthodox churches. The Bipartisan War Party preaches “we have to fight them over there to be safe over here,” yet wants to import to our shores refugees–some who no doubt participated in the genocide of Christians in Iraq and Syria.

    The most dangerous enemies of the American people are found in D.C. President Trump needs to concentrate on destroying that foe.

    • Gassius Maximus

      There are bad guys all around, both domestic and foreign. At least the President can delegate the military stuff and get that part rebuilding after being gutted by Obozo and crew. Hearing that the AF Academy is now under the leadership of a Lesbo is just another problem that needs correcting along with morale and problems like the Marine Corps social media porn issues.

      Politically, he seems to act quickly at making changes as needed. He is working as his business experience dictates. He gets the best people he can for the situation. He knows not everyone can do everything or do everything as well as needed. He calls in the pros when he needs them.

  • Captain Mann

    Your article should put Trump supporters at ease with its well-balanced and thoughtful dissection of the administration’s objectives, and, hopefully, leaves the left and never-Trumpers in tatters. Once again. Thank you, so much!

  • QET

    It seems to me the lamentations of the commenters here are as premature as the celebrations of the BPW. Some of you speak of “intelligent statesmanship” in a manner that suggests it categorically excludes any demonstration of military resolve. It is perfectly plausible–not certain, but plausible–that in light of the last Administration’s 8-year dither plus the very obvious and aggressive efforts by the remnants of said Administration, the entire Democratic party and their media stooges to do everything within their power to (a) undermine the Trump Administration and (b) always present it publicly as a chaotic miasma of dysfunction, if not permanently on the verge of collapse/implosion, that such a demonstration was necessary to the larger goal of a peaceful solution to the conflict. A one-time targeted strike on a military facility suspected of crossing a line drawn by the prior Administration, which line was not, to my knowledge, ever publicly deplored by any likely partner in the “international coalition” Trump is urged to build (as if “building” said coalition were as feasible as building with your Legos or Lincoln Logs), isn’t necessarily a prelude to more “neocon warmongering.” It may well be such, but at this time such a determination is premature.

    • Gassius Maximus

      Agreed but I have to clarify what I see as a misrepresentation of the “last Administration.” They did not “dither” but rather sat in the corner licking their nether parts or each others while the bad actors acted out and now Trump has to deal with the mess left behind. And that is no small matter.

      • ek ErilaR

        The best way to deal with the mess in question is to just let them alone to kill each other; no refugees accepted, no aid given, nothing. They’ll have it all sorted it out in just a few months. If ISIS wins, so what? The situation will be clarified.

  • ek ErilaR

    I guess we’ll all see in just a few weeks but the early returns don’t look good. Led by the fair Ivanka and her twirpy spouse, it looks like Likud will be happy; Egypt and Saudi Arabia will be happy; and we’ll left paying the bill, again.

  • AEJ

    Is there anyway to pause that ANNOYING banner above that makes the page move up and down while reading or writing in the comments section? Really annoying!!!!!!!

    • I agree!

      • AEJ

        Also: I can no longer read Comments from my iPhone. 🙁