The Consequences of Last Night’s Attack
The Trump administration reportedly warned Russia of last night’s attack in advance, but the attack has still resulted in predictable anger from Moscow:
World leaders rallied around the United States after it launched a missile strike early Friday on a Syrian air base in response to this week’s chemical attack, while Russia condemned the move as “aggression” and suspended crucial coordination with Washington in Syria’s congested skies [bold mine-DL].
The most immediate practical consequence of the attack is the end of Russia’s cooperation in deconflicting Syrian airspace. That is potentially hazardous for both Russian and American pilots, and may further complicate the ongoing anti-ISIS bombing campaign. It increases the chances that there will be more near-misses and possibly even accidental collisions. American pilots flying over Syria today are less safe today because Trump wanted to show the world how “tough” he is. Even if last night’s strikes were a one-time thing, that is already a high price to pay for the sake of sending a message.
The Kremlin’s spokesman said that the attack “deals a significant blow to Russia-U.S. relations, which are already in a deplorable shape.” It is not surprising that Russia isn’t pleased that our government has just attacked one of its clients, and it should put an end to the silly idea that Russia would have become more cooperative and less confrontational if Obama had ordered an attack in 2013. On the contrary, we should assume that tensions with Moscow over Syria and other disputed issues will increase in the weeks and months to come. The Trump administration may find that this attack contributes to many more headaches in the future on issues when they cannot gain Russia’s cooperation. Meanwhile, Russia has also announced that it will help the Syrian government improve its air defenses, so if the administration is going to be launching more attacks they may be even less effective.
Far from showing “strength” or “resolve” or whatever it is Trump thinks launching missiles shows, the president has shown to everyone in Washington that he is very easily pushed into taking military action by events and political pressure. His abrupt volte-face on Syria certainly confirms his phoniness, as Rod Dreher and Robert Merry have mentioned, but more than that it reinforces the impression that he is extremely pliable and easy to manipulate. Trump craves approval, and unfortunately he has just discovered that the quickest way to gain it from many denizens of Washington is to bomb something, no matter how ineffectual or dangerous that action may be. It is inevitable that Syria hawks will now be greatly encouraged to press for a larger intervention, and Trump has demonstrated that he will cave in to demands for “action” very quickly.
Last night’s attack probably won’t have have the desired effect on Syrian regime behavior, but it was significant in that Trump ordered it without Congressional authorization and without authorization from the U.N. Obama launched an illegal war in Libya in 2011 as far as U.S. law was concerned, but could at least claim to be acting on the basis of a Security Council resolution. Bush launched an invasion of Iraq that was illegal under international law, but had at least gone through the motions of securing Congressional authorization. Trump simply ordered an attack on a foreign government that posed no threat to the U.S. without explaining his reasons beforehand and without any debate or input from our elected representatives. Even if it doesn’t lead to a larger war, the fact remains that Trump had no authority to do what he did. Because most members of Congress don’t care about their responsibilities or constitutional limits on the power of the executive, he will very likely get away with it, and unfortunately that will help Trump or some future president to launch the next war with greater ease.