Home/Daniel Larison/Trump’s Saber-Rattling on Syria

Trump’s Saber-Rattling on Syria

Two Air Force F-22 Raptors fly over Syria, Feb. 2, 2018, while supporting Operation Inherent Resolve. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Colton Elliott

The president tweeted this out this morning in response to reports of a new chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government:

Trump’s statement is a particularly stupid piece of revisionism on his part. Trump was opposed to Obama’s threatened attack in 2013, and then as president Trump ordered an illegal military attack on the Syrian government one year ago to punish it for an alleged chemical weapons attack. He had no authority to do this, the attack was a flagrant breach of the U.N. Charter, and it apparently failed to discourage the Syrian government from carrying out similar attacks later on. The president ordered the “unbelievably small attack” that Obama administration threatened to launch in 2013, and it made no meaningful difference to the course of the war or the regime’s behavior.

Trump tweeted out earlierin the day that “President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay.” He didn’t say what that “big price” was or how it will be “paid,” but the fact that he thinks it is a good idea to make threats against the Syrian government’s patrons bodes ill for the future of U.S. policy in Syria. The foreign policy establishment was beside itself last week when they thought that Trump wanted to withdraw from Syria, but they should be much more worried that he will launch an illegal attack and plunge the U.S. in even deeper.

The danger in having an ongoing illegal military presence in Syria is that it exposes U.S. forces to unacceptable and unnecessary risks and creates the possibility of escalation with the Syrian government and its allies. If Trump orders another illegal attack on the Syrian government or the forces of any of its supporters, it could easily trigger a larger conflict. Russia has given an explicit warning against a U.S. attack this time, saying that it could trigger “the gravest consequences.” Even if it doesn’t lead to a larger conflict with a nuclear-armed major power, it isn’t worth taking the risk for the sake of policing the conduct of a foreign civil war.

If Trump were really interested in extricating the U.S. from war in Syria, he would not be engaged in mindless saber-rattling against the Syrian government and its allies. Unfortunately, Trump’s bellicosity always seems to take over in these situations. That is what we get from Trump’s anti-restraint foreign policy.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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