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The Syrian attack

By Robert Bidinotto
web posted April 10, 2017

I am of mixed minds about this action, though on the whole, I support it.

On the negative side: I agree with those who criticize the lack of congressional authorization for the use of military force. There are times when the president must respond immediately to a time-sensitive threat situation and can't wait around for Congress to debate. But this was not an emergency, let alone a direct, immediate threat to the United States. We have gotten entirely too used to unilateral, low-level military actions undertaken by the chief executive, which slowly metastasize into full-blown wars, and which have become our standard operating procedure. Within a year or two, a "surgical strike" somehow balloons into a futile exercise in "nation-building," with the expenditure of countless billions of dollars and thousands of American lives. And in this case, given the potentially grave stakes of involvement in the Syrian chaos, that possibility makes me nervous. If any ongoing war bears the warning label of "Quagmire," it's Syria.

However, given the longstanding precedents set regarding such limited military strikes, it seems that the "congressional authorization" ship sailed long ago. All sorts of "police actions" have been conducted by presidents while Congress sat on its hands until it was too late. So in this case, we are left with prudential rather than legal considerations.

And in that, on balance (and it is a difficult balancing act), I lean toward supporting this limited military strike -- but mainly for broader geopolitical reasons.

First of all, horrible as Assad's ongoing genocidal actions have been, his brazen use of chemical weapons against civilians threatened to establish WMD as "the new normal" of modern warfare. Not that other horrible weapons, such as barrel bombs and cluster bombs, are much better; but the use of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons crosses a bright line because WMD raises exponentially the threat level to the entire world, including ourselves.

The trigger and rationale for U.S. military intervention in far-flung conflicts cannot logically be some combatant's targeting of civilians per se; if that were the case, then we become morally obligated to intervene constantly, all around the world, every time some dictator or insurgent force butchers innocents. However, the "normalization" of WMD use constitutes a direct long-term threat to America itself, and that is a justifiable reason to intervene.

If that is one geopolitical rationale for Mr. Trump's military strike, there is another.

New presidents are always tested by aggressors to see if they have any spine; their response to such tests informs aggressors how much latitude they may have. Syria tested Mr. Obama with WMD and found out that his Red Line was inscribed in disappearing ink. On this and every other vital national security issue -- such as Iran's pathway to nuclear weapons -- the world discovered quickly that the Obama/Hillary/Ben Rhodes/John Kerry/Susan Rice/Valerie Jarrett policy in the face of aggressors consisted of a white flag.

As a result, the world has become accustomed to viewing America as a paper tiger, a one-time superpower in terminal decline. Thugs across the globe concluded over the past decade that they had a carte blanche to do whatever they wanted to. And so they have, leaving the world a much more chaotic and dangerous place.

President Trump's highly circumscribed action has forced them all to reconsider their assumptions -- and part of their recalculations, I think, are because Team Trump did not feel obligated or intimidated to beg prior permission of the International Community (mostly the thugs and terrorists who dominate the UN) before acting. UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson laid that out in no uncertain terms prior to the attack, which served as an exclamation point at the end of their statements.

The attack had little immediate military value, nor was it intended to. Instead, it was a calculated geopolitical message delivered not just to Assad, who is small change; it was a clear warning to Russia and Iran (Syria's sponsors), and to China and North Korea, that there is a new sheriff in town, and that aggression that was once tolerated would no longer be.

Now, of course nobody knows how any of these nations will respond. Every military action bears serious risks. But so does passivity and inaction, which sends far more dangerous signals. I believe it is of overriding importance to American national security that these adversaries, as well as our allies and the rest of the world, understand that the days of U.S. Strategic Patience -- i.e., impotent passivity -- in the face of aggression are over.

Inflicting WMD on civilian populations is the perfect issue about which to send such a message to the world. I think that today a lot of the world's beleaguered and long-suffering Good Guys are encouraged and rallying, while the Bad Guys are worried and wondering what the hell the Cowboy American President is going to do next. And that is not a bad outcome for the expenditure of $59 million in Tomahawk cruise missiles.

That message sent, let's now avoid jumping into the quagmire with both feet. ESR

Robert Bidinotto is the bestselling author of the political thrillers "Hunter" and "Bad Deeds", both available on Amazon.com.

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