President Trump made a bold and appropriate decision to strike a Syrian airfield with 59 cruise missiles in response to the Syrian government’s heinous sarin-gas attack on an opposition stronghold that killed at least 85 people, including 27 children.
“Using a deadly nerve agent, [Syrian President Bashar] Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and, most tragically, children,” Trump told the nation in justifying the use of force. “It was a slow and brutal death for so many. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack. No child of God should ever suffer such horror.”
Like the rest of the civilized world, Trump was outraged by footage from the chemical-weapons attack, which injured at least 550 people. But it’s important to note that there have been and will be other searing images from Syria depicting the depravity of the homicidal Assad regime. Some of these grisly images are from previous chemical-weapons attacks, others are from the equally lethal barbarity of barrel bombs, or the archipelago of torture chambers that nearly always result in death.
Assad should be prosecuted on war-crimes charges; his evil reverberates well beyond Syria’s borders, destabilizing neighboring nations, especially Jordan, a U.S. ally, as well as European allies who are reeling from the refugee crisis Assad’s actions have created on the continent.
The limited missile strike was a proportional response to the most recent sarin-gas attack — and an unequivocal message to the rest of the world that the use of such weapons in any conflict cannot be tolerated. It also sends an important signal to key geopolitical powers that the U.S. can and will act militarily, albeit in a limited fashion, which could eventually bolster the preferred and essential method of finding diplomatic solutions to the world’s crises.
This is especially true in the case of Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose immoral military and political backing of his ally Assad has exacerbated the Syrian misery by propping up the Syrian leader’s criminal attacks on his own citizens. Ideally, Thursday’s strike should also give Putin pause in the dangerous military provocations Russia has undertaken in Europe after hard-hitting U.S. and European Union sanctions imposed over Moscow’s illegal cleaving of Crimea and destabilization of Ukraine.
And the timing might not be lost on Chinese President Xi Jinping, who on the same day of the Syrian strikes was meeting with Trump in Florida. Among the many agenda items is China’s role in curbing the peril posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs, which if left unchecked would directly threaten the U.S.
What to do next in Syria is the key question. But any further consideration of military action in Syria must include congressional authorization.
That’s what the Constitution calls for. And that’s what common sense calls for, too. No military endeavor can succeed without the backing of the American people. A limited missile strike to deter future use of banned weapons is one thing; further escalation is another matter entirely, and the American people through their elected representatives deserve to have a say on such a sharp departure from the Obama-era policies, let alone the campaign rhetoric of then-candidate Trump.
On Sunday, the Star Tribune Editorial Board will weigh in on what’s next for U.S. policy on Syria.