Say, does anyone recall when Barack Obama and John Kerry hailed their agreement with Russia to ensure disposal of Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons? Marco Rubio does, and says Donald Trump made “the right move” to put teeth into that deal. Speaking on CNN’s New Day, the one-time Trump opponent declared that Syria and Russia had to face the consequences of reneging on that deal, and that further strikes won’t require advance approval from Congress unless Trump wants to open up a wider war:
Sen. Marco Rubio says President Donald Trump's decision to attack a Syrian airbase was "the right move" https://t.co/ICliPEjpkP
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) April 7, 2017
Not only did Trump make the right move in conducting these strikes, he had “the obligation to act,” Rubio told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos:
— Good Morning America (@GMA) April 7, 2017
The question of authorization has become a hot topic in the media this morning, which is a little amazing after the last six years of unilateral action from Barack Obama. In 2011, Obama ordered the continuous bombing of Libyan military forces, ostensibly just to protect Benghazi from a genocidal attack by Moammar Qaddafi. It turned into a months-long campaign by the US and its NATO partners that clearly intended to conduct a coup in Libya, and succeeded at it. When Obama refused to seek Congressional authorization for his undeclared war in Libya, some Republicans objected to it — an objection that was painted as nothing much more than partisan attacks on a president determined to enforce a “responsibility to protect” doctrine. This single strike does not at all compare to the war waged against Libya — which backfired as badly as could be imagined in the end, as the country dissolved into a failed state and prompted a massive refugee crisis that has transformed the politics of our closest NATO allies.
Politico at least points out that Trump has managed another distinction from Obama:
In ordering the missile strikes, Trump has now taken direct and overt military action against a foreign government after long denouncing the idea of intervention in Syria and promising he would not entangle America in more wars in the Middle East.
Even if this is the only military move Trump makes against Assad — he referred to it as a “targeted” strike — the new president has distinguished himself from his predecessor Barack Obama. The former president considered, but ultimately decided against, military action against the Assad regime over chemical weapons attacks.
It was actually worse than that. Rather than follow through on his “red line” using his presidential authority, Obama first tried to outsource it to Congress and then later retreated altogether. Instead, he and Kerry cobbled together a laughable agreement where Russia guaranteed the removal of chemical weapons from Syria, which proved just as laughable then as it was when Syria used those weapons afterward. At the time, Jeffrey Goldberg called Assad the big winner, and it’s useful now to recall why:
1. So long as he doesn’t use chemical weapons on his people, he’ll be safe from armed Western intervention. Roughly 98 percent of the people who have died in the Syrian civil war so far have not been killed with chemical weapons, so obviously Assad and his regime have figured out ways to cause mass death in conventional ways. It’s safe to assume that he’ll increase the tempo of attacks on rebels and civilians, knowing now that he can do so with impunity. Obama won’t be outlining any further “red lines,” it would seem.
2. By partnering with Russia and the West on the disarmament process, a process that is meant to last into 2014 (and most likely won’t be finished for years, even if it is carried out in good faith, which is a big “if”), Assad has made himself indispensable. A post-Assad regime wouldn’t necessarily be party to this agreement, and might not even go through the motions. Syria, post-Assad, might very well be more fractured and chaotic than it is now, which is to say, even less of an environment in which United Nations weapons inspectors could safely go about their work. The U.S. now needs Assad in place for the duration. He’s the guy, after all, whose lieutenants know where the chemical weapons are.
After this, Assad thumbed his nose at #1, and has belatedly discovered that #2 might not apply with Obama out of office.