Believe me, this time-limited scope-limited kinetic activity will be the best time-limited scope-limited activity.
I assumed circumstances would eventually force President Trump to be more hawkish than candidate Trump. I didn’t think it’d happen in less than 100 days, though, involving a country he’s correctly singled out for years as a particularly bad prospect for U.S. intervention.
The United States launched dozens of cruise missiles Thursday night at a Syrian airfield in response to what it believes was the Syrian government’s use of banned chemical weapons blamed for having killed at least 100 people on Tuesday, U.S. military officials told NBC News.
The U.S. military fired at least 50 Tomahawk missiles intended for a single target — Ash Sha’irat in Homs province in western Syria, the officials said.
That’s the airfierld from which the United States believes the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad fired the banned weapons.
CNN’s Pentagon correspondent noted within the past hour that the military had likely presented Trump with two options, a limited one targeting the airfield from which the chemical raid on Idlib was launched and a more comprehensive one targeting all sorts of Assad assets — chemical weapons depots, aircraft, military installations, you name it. Now we wait to see which option Trump chose. Early signs suggest the former, which makes sense given the freakishly high potential for unintended consequences in a broader bombing campaign, but the night is young.
I don’t know if it’s a coincidence either that Trump wanted the strikes to begin tonight, while he’s meeting with Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago. That’s a not so subtle message to the Chinese that if they don’t deal with this North Korea situation soon, wild-man Trump might deal with it his way.
And of course, this is also a message to his predecessor. Where Obama, the weak man, balked when asked to enforce the international taboo against WMD, Trump the strongman president insists on following through.
Stand by for updates. Early exit question: Will any Senate Republicans apart from Rand Paul and Mike Lee demand to know why Trump didn’t seek a congressional resolution authorizing force, as Trump himself demanded of Obama in 2013?
Update: Per CNN, Trump gave the order to attack before his dinner with Xi tonight. The meal took place while the strikes were being carried out.
Update: Tomorrow will bring dozens of questions. Here’s an early one to start:
Odds Assad launches another chemical strike in the next few days?
— Drew McCoy (@_Drew_McCoy_) April 7, 2017
If Assad responds defiantly with another sarin attack, what’s the play? Another round of bombing? Tit for tat until Russia gets annoyed?
Another question: Is this a one-off thing or is Trump all-in now on the idea of using U.S. military power for purely humanitarian reasons? That’s about as sharp a break with candidate Trump’s foreign policy as you can imagine.
Update: A prudent measure: The White House reportedly warned Russia before launching its missiles. No Russian assets were targeted, needless to say.
Update: For what it’s worth:
BREAKING: A high ranking administration official says foreign countries from Arab states to Canada supported tonight's strikes vs. Syria.
— Joe Scarborough (@JoeNBC) April 7, 2017
Update: Superhawks McCain and Graham are happy:
McCAIN and GRAHAM weigh in pic.twitter.com/hIylPUl92z
— Shane Goldmacher (@ShaneGoldmacher) April 7, 2017
Update: Good point from David French. A pinprick strike on a particular airfield is wise insofar as it minimized the risk of spillover effects in a war as chaotic as this, but it also gives Assad a propaganda opportunity. Tomorrow he’ll crawl out of his hole, go on TV, and say, “See? I’m still here.” His resoluteness may enhance his stature among his admirers.
Update: Here’s a Ted Cruz op-ed from 2013, written when Obama was considering strikes on Assad to punish him for using sarin and making the case that the U.S. should not intervene. All the reasons then apply now — it’s not a matter of U.S. national security, the rebels on the other side aren’t necessarily any better than Assad, and the escalation potential is enormous. We’ll see what he has to say tomorrow.
Update: There are reports in Arab media of Hezbollah casualties at the airfield. We’ll see in the next few weeks if Iran answers.
Update: Trump spoke briefly at around 10 p.m. ET. Did Marco Rubio write this?
Trump: "Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children." Full transcript: pic.twitter.com/95ZEo1LCNY
— Abby D. Phillip (@abbydphillip) April 7, 2017
Two key points. One: It sounds like this was indeed a pinprick strike, targeting only the airfield. The ball’s in Assad’s court now. Two: Note how Trump frames this not as a humanitarian matter but as a national-security matter, insisting that the use of WMD anywhere is a threat to the United States. That’s a global “red line.” Is he prepared to enforce it everywhere?
A better natsec argument for the strike is that it puts American enemies everywhere on notice that Trump is more willing to use military force than Obama is. Look before you leap.
Update: Here’s the video.
— Conflict News (@Conflicts) April 7, 2017
Update (John adds): Earlier today Hillary was asked about the chemical attack in Syria. She replied, “I really believe that we should’ve and still should take out his airfields and prevent him from being able to use them to bomb innocent people and drop sarin gas on them.” It will be interesting to see if Hillary still feels this way tomorrow.