What a difference five years can make. In 2013, then-U.S. President Barack Obama decided to postpone military action in response to an alleged Syrian chemical weapons attack in order to let Congress debate the matter and vote on it. In the meantime, Russia stepped up to oversee the removal of chemical weapons from the Syrian government’s possession, and Congress was relieved of having to decide the matter.
At the time, private citizen Donald Trump criticized the potential use of U.S. military force in Syria. On Sept. 5, 2013, Trump tweeted: “The only reason President Obama wants to attack Syria is to save face over his very dumb RED LINE statement. Do NOT attack Syria, fix U.S.A.”
Fast-forward to April 14, 2018, when Trump retweeted a quote by his U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley: “When our president draws a red line, our president enforces the red line.”
Citizen Trump was correct about red lines being a bad idea — including those laid down by now-President Trump — because they explicitly announce to the world how to trigger you. It’s exactly like the parent who says to an unruly child, “Don’t make me come over there!” Now the child knows exactly how to get your attention whenever he or she wants it.
The entities at war in Syria — many of whom are terrorists whose activity has been backed by nations seeking to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad — now know exactly how to get Trump’s missiles flying into the country. All they have to do is convince the world that chemical weapons have been deployed, thereby crossing the “red line.” Before any independent inquiry into an alleged chemical weapons attack can be launched, the missiles will be flying, perhaps even unwittingly providing terrorists with helpful air cover in their fight against the Syrian government.
Trump’s missile response amounted to fireworks, or “nosebleed strikes” in military terms. They purportedly struck some old chemical weapons program installations. Given that the U.S. has had a troop presence in Syria for several years, you’d figure these sites would have been neutralized earlier, or at least targeted in a previous airstrike against Syria. The fact that a giant chemical cloud didn’t emanate from the strikes and kill everyone in the vicinity suggests that the only ones punished as a result of Trump’s red line being crossed were any stray animals that might have been using the buildings for shelter.
Yeah, mission accomplished.
Trump had the right idea about red lines five years ago. Just because he has now surrounded himself with trigger-happy neocons doesn’t make the imposition of red lines a better idea now.
The lip-service bombings smack of the kind of insecurity that comes from knowing your actions are unpopular, unauthorized and based on flimsy evidence. Trump isn’t enforcing his authority as commander-in-chief; he’s diluting it by appearing as if he’s being goaded into useless, symbolic actions by some warmongers in his entourage instead of saving military strikes for times when they might actually have an impact.
Britain and France rode shotgun with Trump into this latest charade, and both countries’ parliaments are now debating the legitimacy and legality of their participation in the strikes.
A tweet by citizen Trump from Aug. 31, 2013, nicely summarizes the position of opponents to President Trump’s latest strikes: “The President must get Congressional approval before attacking Syria — big mistake if he does not!”
Great point, citizen Trump! On what legal grounds were these strikes authorized, President Trump?
America and its French and British allies weren’t attacked by Syria. And it isn’t feasible that any authorization for fighting terrorists in the wake of the September 2001 attacks on American soil could extend to targeting the Syrian government 17 years later.
There has been no official finding on the alleged use of chemical weapons. French President Emmanuel Macron has said that three of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council decided to act, so therefore it’s justified. Yeah, well, the other two permanent members — Russia and China — undoubtedly would have vetoed this little adventure had it come up for a vote. Where does it say that if three out of five permanent members decide to use military force, then it’s fine? That’s one heck of a precedent for future wars.
The world can be thankful that the recent strikes were primarily symbolic and useless, and we should hope that this miscalculation didn’t render the situation on the ground worse for those (including the Syrian military) trying to flush terrorists from their strongholds.
Maybe next time, before whipping out his missiles for the world to behold, President Trump can consult with citizen Trump. The world would be better off for it.
Rachel Marsden is a columnist, political strategist and former Fox News host based in Paris. Her column is distributed as part of Tribune Content Agency’s “American Voices” feature.