- - Wednesday, April 12, 2017


No one is ever fully prepared to be president of the United States.

No matter how much experience they have serving in a legislative body, as a governor or in the Cabinet, there is simply no substitute for the solitude and the weight of the decisions that face an American president.

Decisions are yours alone, and history is documenting each one. There are no easy answers for problems that arrive on the presidential desk.

Foreign policy crises test presidents in unique ways: Intelligence can be incomplete, foreign adversaries can be unpredictable, and in the back of a president’s mind is the paralyzing fear that American lives may be lost.

When President Trump was presented with his first foreign policy crisis last week, forced to determine the U.S. response to a heinous chemical attack unquestionably perpetrated by Syrian president and war criminal Bashar Assad, the world looked to the new U.S. president.

Would he be decisive? Would he respond proportionally? Would he be able to unify the country?

The consensus view, across party lines, is yes.

We can debate the precise impact of firing 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles into a Syrian air base that U.S. intelligence believes was used to launch the chemical weapons attack. We can debate whether a new authorization of military force is needed. We can debate what our country’s policy toward Syria should be.

But in reviewing this presidential decision, all Americans should pause to consider how this decision was made, and most will find confidence in the Trump administration’s handling of an urgent foreign crisis.

In this case, the National Security Council worked exactly as it should, with a newly empowered, thoughtful and credible national security adviser in Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster balancing the equities of our national security officials and presenting options to the president.

The Syrian challenge is four-dimensional: It’s a Syrian civil war, with ISIS operating in the east, and Russia and Iran directly involved. There will be no simple solution as nothing could be acceptable to each of the parties involved.

This complexity paralyzed the Obama administration when it was confronted with the horror of Mr. Assad’s brutality.

Nongovernmental estimates of how many Syrians Mr. Assad has killed since 2011 generally start at 200,000 and go up from there.

In the end, Mr. Trump believed inaction posed far greater risk to the U.S. than action. In the space of about two days, Mr. Trump considered the options with his national security team, and the airstrike was carried out with precision by our military.

Critics often say that Mr. Trump is not a man of compassion, but the images of the children who were indiscriminately slaughtered last week clearly moved him.

With this targeted, proportional military strike, the benefits will not be limited to Syria. Foreign adversaries and terrorists may not have known what to make of President Trump. Now they do.

He will act. He will act decisively. He will not be passive.

This action in Syria puts North Korea, Russia and Iran on notice. We cannot fully calculate the powerful value of that statement.

Going forward, the Trump administration will be judged by the results of its policies, which take time to develop and time to carry out.

But in evaluating this first consequential presidential decision, all Americans should be proud of Mr. Trump and encouraged by how well his foreign policy team executed this important mission.

Matt Mackowiak is the president of Austin-based Potomac Strategy Group, a Republican consultant, a Bush administration and Bush-Cheney re-election campaign veteran, and former press secretary to two U.S. senators. He is the host of a national politics podcast, “Mack on Politics,” produced in partnership with The Washington Times. His podcast may be found at washingtontimes.com/mackonpolitics.

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