- The Washington Times - Friday, April 7, 2017


President Donald Trump, responding to a chemical weapons attack in Syria that killed dozens — including children — ordered a targeted cruise missile strike on a military airbase, al-Shayrat Airfield, located in the western part of the country outside Homs.

He shouldn’t have. Gruesome pictures of dead children do not automatically justify an American military intervention — especially one absent congressional OK. Yes, America’s been involved in airstrikes against ISIS in Syria since 2014. Yes, Trump’s White House has continued this bombing campaign against ISIS.

But these new airstrikes are aimed at sending a message to Bashar Assad, not ISIS. The airfield is in the middle of Syrian regime territory; it’s used by Assad’s government, and by Russia’s military forces, who are there to help fight ISIS.

“This was in response to the Syrian chemical weapons attack April 4 in Khan Sheikhoun … [that] killed and injured hundreds of innocent Syrian people, including women and children,” said Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, of Trump’s order to launch 59 Tomahawk missiles at the airbase. “The strikes were intended to deter the regime from using chemical weapons again.”

The airstrike wasn’t all that surprising.

Trump, earlier this week, had hinted during a briefing with the king of Jordan that he was considering action against Syria.

“That attack on children … had a big impact on me,” Trump said Wednesday. “Big impact. That was a horrible, horrible thing and I’ve been watching it and seeing it and it doesn’t get any worse than that.”

But rather than talking to Jordan, maybe Trump should’ve been talking more to Congress. It’s Congress, after all, which has the power to declare war. Just because past presidents have used the War Powers Act to justify taking unilateral military action doesn’t make it right, or constitutional. Trump did provide Congress a quick update on his intentions. But that’s far different from obtaining congressional permission, via a vote and declaration.

On top of that, there’s always this question: Why can’t America’s allies take care of Syria — why can’t Jordan, or Saudi Arabia, step in and deal? It seems, geographically speaking at least, they have a more direct interest than America.

Where are our so-called foreign friends?

Military hawks, those who see Syria as one and the same as Iran and Russia, and therefore must be controlled, are applauding these Tomahawk strikes. So, too, are those upset by the very sad pictures of dead children, the most innocent of victims of the chemical attacks.

But here’s the problem — or plural, problems: Pictures of dead children ought not be the guiding hand that brings America to the battlefield.

America’s national interests should.

And currently, America’s interests in Syria are negligible. Going after ISIS is one thing. Sending stern messages to Assad — going after Assad and Syria’s government — is quite another. It was Barack Obama’s administration that wanted Assad out — but failed. Trump’s White House hasn’t taken as firm a stance on that, saying through U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that the “longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people” — but then, as we now see, striking at the Syrian regime. Conflicting message? Think so.

And now Russia’s ticked. Not that Russia’s our main concern, or even secondary concern. But long-term repercussions ought to be considered.

“Cooperation between the Russian and U.S. militaries may be shut down after the U.S. strike,” said Viktor Ozerov, head of the defense committee in the Federation Council, CNN reported.

Russia’s also now calling for an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting, calling the U.S. strike “an act of aggression against a U.N. member.”

Quick sidenote: At least now maybe Democrats will stop trying to make the case that Trump and Vladimir Putin are besties.

But here’s the thing: Russia denies Assad’s forces unleashed the chemical weapons. The Russian argument is that Assad’s warplanes bombed a rebel storage site that was being used to construct chemical weapons, and it was this action that mistakenly brought about the deaths. America scoffs at that; the Trump administration insists Assad’s military purposely unleashed the weapons.

And truly, America’s probably right. Assad is a monster. 

Still, he’s Syria’s chosen monster. America once had to wage a long and bloody war to get rid of its British monsters. Other countries can surely do similarly.

There’s a real caution against jumping into a military mission on the basis of gruesome pictures of killed kids. If that’s the standard for striking, there are plenty of other spots in the world America would have to get involved in militarily. Do we really want to walk that path?

If so, it’s Congress — with the power to declare war — not the president, who should decide.

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