President Trump’s decision to launch an air strike on the Al Shayrat airfield in Syria confirms what had been only too obvious in recent weeks, that Trump, far from representing a clean break with the regnant foreign policy orthodoxy of endless military intervention in the Greater Middle East, has instead become captive to it.
This can hardly come as a surprise given the fact that he stacked his Cabinet with hardline Iran obsessives like the former alt-right media guru Stephen K. Bannon, former generals James Mattis and H.R. McMaster, and former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley. The chemical-weapons attack in the rebel-occupied town of Khan Sheikhun on Tuesday was nothing if not a perfect pretext for yet another round of American muscle flexing, all the better to, as the punditocracy never tires of saying, “send a message” to Tehran by way of Syria.
And for his efforts, Trump has suddenly become an object of praise by the US foreign-policy establishment, which never tires equating “seriousness” with unilateral acts of war on sovereign nations. This morning, that barometer of establishment opinion, Fareed Zakaria, gushed, “I think Donald Trump became President of the United States, I think this was a big moment.”
Trump’s decision to fire 60 or so Tomahawk missiles on the Syrian airbase also upends the conventional narrative, as widely accepted as it is mistaken, that Trump is little more than a pawn of Russian President Vladimir Putin. But, as perhaps Washington’s most incisive critic of regime-change wars, Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, remarked in a statement last night, “This escalation is short-sighted and will lead to more dead civilians, more refugees, the strengthening of Al Qaeda and other terrorists, and a possible nuclear war between the United States and Russia.”
And the reaction from Moscow was swift, with the Kremlin calling the air strikes an “aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law.” Russia quickly moved to suspend an intelligence-sharing agreement with the US in Syria. Kremlin spokesman Dmitri S. Peskov explained, “Amid the missile strikes, it is hardly reasonable to talk about any more increase in the risk, as the risk has increased considerably.” Peskov also noted, “Most important, from Putin’s point of view, this move doesn’t bring us closer to the end goal in a fight against international terrorism.”