U.S. Attacks Syria–Has Trump Become a Neoconservative?

U.S. Attacks Syria–Has Trump Become a Neoconservative? April 16, 2018

U.S. forces fired over 100 cruise missiles at Syria in retaliation against President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against rebels to his regime.  The chemical attack killed some 40 people in the city of Douma, including a number of children.  President Trump had threatened to punish “Animal Assad” and ordered the missile strikes with the support of France, the United Kingdom, Germany, and other allies.

From NBC News:

President Donald Trump on Friday ordered the United States military — in conjunction with France and the United Kingdom — to launch strikes on Syria in retaliation for a suspected chemical weapons attack by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad on a Damascus suburb last week.

The president said the U.S. would aim to hit sites “associated with the chemical weapons capabilities” of Assad’s regime.

“We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents,” Trump said in remarks from the White House, adding that the U.S. and its allies had “marshaled their righteous power.”. . .

Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the U.S. and its partners launched the attack at 9 p.m. ET and struck multiple targets associated with Syria’s chemical weapons program. Those targets included a scientific research center in Damascus, a chemical weapons storage facility near Homs, Syria, and a chemical weapons equipment and military outpost close to the second target. . . .

At a news conference at the Pentagon after Trump spoke on Friday night, Defense Secretary James Mattis described the strikes as “a little over double the weapons” used by the Trump administration to carry out a similar attack one year ago. That April 2017 attack consisted of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles.

A number of Trump supporters are criticizing his military intervention.  .

During the election, despite the way he is generally portrayed in the media, Donald Trump was the peace candidate.  He spoke against the Iraq War and America’s recent habit of getting involved in unnecessary military incursions in the futile effort to spread democracy.  Trump opposed the “neoconservatives” in the Republican establishment who promoted an interventionist foreign policy.

And yet, Trump also decried the “weakness” that he saw in America’s foreign policy, especially that of President Barack Obama.  Trump wanted America to stand up against countries that have been pushing America around by projecting an image of toughness and military strength.

Some may say that those two impulses–don’t get involved militarily, yet be tough–are contradictory.  But perhaps they reflect a good balance.

At any rate, in the revolving door of the president’s administration, the appointment of John Bolton as National Security advisor to replace H. R. McMaster, has many “paleo-conservatives” worried.  Bolton is a neoconservative who has been a strong advocate of military intervention, including in Iran and North Korea.  Also, Trump’s firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerman and his plan to replace him with CIA director Mike Pompeo, also an interventionist, has some pro-Trump anti-war conservatives concerned that the president has become a neoconservative.  (See this in The American Conservative, as well as subsequent articles about Bolton.)

I think it more likely that President Trump is not following any particular ideology.  Just days before ordering this strike, he announced a complete withdrawal of our military advisors embedded with rebel units.  But the president watched the video of the chemical attacks and saw the bodies of little children who had been gassed.  He resolved to punish the “animal” who would do such things.  Again, contrary to the way Trump is portrayed in the media, in the words of his close associates, he “has a big heart.”  And you could make a case for intervention in response to atrocities that falls short of nation-building.

But what comes next is hard to say.  This attack is “part of a sustained response” until Syria gives up its chemical weapons?  That would be a formula for something like the Iraq war, except that Saddam Hussein didn’t have chemical weapons after all.

“When I take action,” said George W. Bush, “I’m not going to fire a $2 million missile at a $10 empty tent and hit a camel in the butt. It’s going to be decisive.”

Maybe firing those $2 million missiles and hitting a few camels in the butt will be the extent of our attack on Syria.  Or maybe the administration will choose to be “decisive.”


Photo of last year’s cruise missile launch targeting Syria, U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ford Williams/Released.  Public Domain

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