(Rich Galen, Mullings) – Ernest Hemingway wrote in 1942:
“Once we have a war, there is only one thing to do. It must be won.”
I don’t know that Hemingway would have counted the launch of 59 Tomahawk Missiles (worth about $110 million) aimed at an airfield in a relatively remote area of Syria as “having a war,” but that’s what President Donald Trump ordered up last week and that’s what the U.S. Navy delivered.
It’s pretty clear that President did the right thing. It followed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s shocking chemical attack on civilians in the town of Khan Sheikhoun which is about 60 miles south-southwest of Aleppo.
The attack on April 4, as reported by the BBC, “killed at least 89 people, including 33 children, and 18 women.”
The chemical was Sarin gas – a deadly nerve agent – stocks of which had supposedly been identified, collected, and shipped out of the country by international observers in 2014 after President Barack Obama whiffed on his “red line” threat.
But, don’t blame the April 4th attack on Barack Obama. Nor can we blame it on Russian President Vladimir Putin. There is only one person to blame and that is Bashar al-Assad.
The chaotic foreign policy elements of these first months of the Trump Administration have not been calmed by the mixed messages that it continues to project. Earlier last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the Syrian people would have to decide Assad’s fate. By yesterday he had amended his thinking saying of Assad: “It would seem that there would be no role for him to govern the Syrian people.”
That change might be further evidence that Trump’s chief strategist (and ardent isolationist) Steve Bannon, is losing influence over the Administration’s direction day-by-day.
Current U.N. Ambassador (and former Governor of South Carolina) Nikki Haley was far more direct on Sunday saying: “In no way do we see peace in that area with Assad as the head of the Syrian government.”
U.N. Ambassador Haley is my new favorite person in the Administration.
The United States holds the presidency of the U.N. Security Council. It rotates monthly and this happens to be America’s month. After the missile attack, Bolivia – Bolivia! – currently, a member of the Security Council, demanded an emergency meeting to discuss America’s actions. But, they wanted the meeting to be behind closed doors.
Amb. Haley’s response? “Any country that chooses to defend the atrocities of the Syrian regime will have to do so in full public view, for all the world to hear.”
The meeting was open.
Back to Tillerson: According to PBS’ “Frontline”:
“470,000 deaths have been caused by the [Syrian civil war], either directly or indirectly. The grim tally from the Syrian Center for Policy Research (SCPR) represents a dramatic increase from the total of 250,000 fatalities often cited by the United Nations, which stopped independently counting Syria’s war dead early in 2014.”
Not counting dead people doesn’t make them any less dead.
That very same United Nations, through its Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, estimates that 11.3 million people have been displaced either internally (looking for safe havens within Syria) or externally (leading to last year’s torrent of refugees into Europe).
With nearly 12 million people displaced or dead, it is a little hard to understand who might be left to carry the Tillerson Doctrine through to its conclusion.
I’m going with Nikki Haley on this one.
Critics of the President’s decision said, literally seconds after the missile strikes were announced that he “hasn’t announced any strategy.”
This was not a strategic strike. But, if what Bashar al-Assad took away from all this is the implied threat that the next piece of ordinance is coming right through the window of that third floor bathroom you use then, Limited Mission Accomplished.
“Limited” is the operative word.
Finishing where we began, we should heed Hemingway’s warning from 1935 as war clouds were gathering over Europe:
“We in America should see that no man is ever given, no matter how gradually or how noble and excellent the man, the power to put this country into a war which is now being prepared and brought closer each day with all the pre-meditation of a long-planned murder.
“For when you give [that] power to an executive you do not know who will be filling that position when the time of crisis comes.”
Mr. Galen is a veteran political strategist and communications consultant. He blogs at www.Mullings.com.