One problem with my new, slower PPFA plan is when the relevance of a post I’ve been working on for a couple days, like the one posted this morning, gets blown up by new developments. In this case, the destructive culprits were Syria-bound Tomahawk cruise missiles courtesy of President Donald J. Trump.
Like many others, PPFA reacted with a sort of “Finally!” The latest images of the chemical attacks on Syrian civilians might have been the worst ones yet, but appalling pictures and stories have been coming out of the country for years. There’s only so long you can watch a neighbor abuse his family until you try to do something about it.
For that reason, Trump’s intelligent and precise response is probably the best moment of his presidency. His speech emphasized American leadership and the responsibility of civilized nations to stand up to the incivility of the Assad regime. There hasn’t yet been much opposition, though Russia, which has propped up the Syrian leader, has predictably lodged protests, and segments of Trump’s non-interventionist base accuse him of reversing campaign promises while lobbing charges of globalism and neoconservatism. Frankly, PPFA thinks those aren’t the worst groups from which a president can distance himself.
Though Trump’s decision was the right one, Republicans should be careful to use it as a legitimization tactic. Hours before the bombing, Hillary Clinton advised a similar course of action. Moreover, back in 2013 President Barack Obama asked Congress for approval to strike Syria but was rebuffed by Congress (and, often, civilian Donald Trump). An interesting contrast emerges here: whereas Obama, the Constitutional scholar, was timid and deferred to Congress’s power to authorize the use of military force, Trump more broadly interpreted the commander-in-chief’s authority. As we’ll end up seeing, hypocritical revisionism abounds on all sides, but this is a PPFA Quick Hit(c), so we’ll save it.
In the days, weeks, and months ahead, there are three reactions to monitor:
- Does Trump become increasingly interventionist or was this a one-time strike? Do Trump’s actions and Steve Bannon’s exit from the National Security Council fit into a larger political evolution of Trump’s foreign policy?
- If increasingly interventionist, will the international community answer his call to step up?
- If increasingly interventionist, what will be the Congressional reaction? Will they authorize military force? Will Trump even ask?
In the meantime, let’s hope Assad takes notice and backs off of being one of this generation’s worst people.