So once again, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad unleashed chemical weapons against Syrian civilians.
And once again, the President of the United States took the podium to declare the chemical attack unacceptable — a breach of a moral line separating weapons of mass destruction from the more conventional atrocities to which Syrians have sadly grown accustomed.
We’d seen this little morality play unfold before. It might all have had a déjà vu quality, had November 8, 2016, not intervened.
Whereas President Obama spent weeks agonizing over the implications of the "red line" he had drawn in the Syrian sand, President Trump took prompt action.
The Ghouta chemical attacks occurred on August 21, 2013. President Obama decried them immediately. Secretary Kerry joined his saber rattling, promising a military response — albeit an "unbelievably small" one. They then turned first to the United Nations, then to Congress, seeking a way to back down — but to no avail. At the eleventh hour, a savior arose: Vladimir Putin offered Russia’s services to oversee the removal of all chemical weapons from Syria. Assad and Obama agreed immediately; by mid-September the deal was done. The following year, Kerry certified that Russia had delivered fully: Assad possessed no more chemical weapons.
Of course, Kerry got it wrong.
Last Tuesday morning, Assad was at it again. News and agonizing photos of a deadly gas attack surfaced quickly. President Trump, following his predecessor, decried it quickly and unequivocally. He then turned first to the United Nations, then to the American people, then to his military advisors. Within seventy-two hours of Assad’s gas attack, U.S. missiles had taken out a key Syrian air base directly connected to the attack.
The message to Assad, Putin, and the world was clear: There’s a new sheriff in town.
Syria is a propitious place for President Trump to have sent that message, because President Obama’s own Syrian message reverberated around the world.
The feckless American response to the 2013 Ghouta attacks prolonged and intensified the Syrian civil war, needlessly raising both death tolls and refugee flows. Russia’s arrival laid the groundwork for a shift in the balance of power; a losing regime that "had to go" five years ago has become today’s smart-money favorite.
Russia predictably parlayed its limited invitation into permanent residence. Over the past four years, it has become the key power in Syria and a significant player throughout the region. Iran pocketed Obama’s support for its Syrian ally while squeezing him for concessions on all other points. And the world learned an important lesson: though the American military might remain fierce, it would stay both chained and muzzled as long as Obama remained in the White House. China in particular learned that there was no reason to consider an American response when contemplating provocative action.
Obama’s inaction in Syria was one of the clearest demonstrations of his entire approach to foreign policy. He put allies and enemies alike on notice: acceding to American demands brought contempt and further demands; standing strong against the U.S. brought concessions.
What inferences is the world likely to draw from President Trump’s very different Syria message?
First, our new Commander in Chief is a man of decisiveness and action, rather than of debate and recrimination. Allies, enemies, and fence-sitters alike know that he means what he says.
Second, the U.S. military is completely capable of targeted, limited, proportionate responses.
Third, the U.S. recognizes objective morality, and will punish moral outrages at its own sole discretion, with or without the approval of the "international community."
Fourth, a single bombing raid is unlikely to shift the direction of Syria’s civil war, but it will put the players on notice to constrain their atrocities. Which is fine, because the anti-Assad forces may or may not be less barbaric than he is, but they certainly cannot be classified as either allies or good guys.
Fifth, no one in either Washington or Moscow wants to see a shooting war between the U.S. and Russia. Both countries recognize that their interests conflict as least as often as they overlap. That means they need to develop a new modus vivendi to ensure that miscalculations do not begin an accidental war that no one desires.
Sixth, the full might of the American military is now unleashed. We have returned to the combination of fierceness and discipline that has brought so many benefits to so many parts of the world for so long.
Seventh, and most importantly, the U.S. is reengaged with the world. American interests — and values — matter again. Ignore them at your own peril.
With one decisive action, President Trump not only reinstated America as the unipolar superpower, he restored morality to the morality play.
Bruce Abramson is the President of Informationism, Inc., Vice President and Director of Policy at the Iron Dome Alliance, and a Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research.
Jeff Ballabon is CEO of B2 Strategic, Chairman of the Iron Dome Alliance, and a Senior Fellow at the American Conservative Union's Center for Statesmanship and Diplomacy. To read more of their reports — Click Here Now.
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