The rationale is that the Syrian government under Bashar Al-Assad had killed civilians in rebel areas with chemical weapons approximately 48 hours ago. Two days of deliberation behind closed doors, no real hard evidence presented to the public, and the United States suddenly decides to escalate its involvement (with hundreds of troops currently deployed in Syria itself) by directly attacking the Syrian government, makes me pause and ask if the lessons of the Iraq War are so easily forgotten? At least then, a dog and pony show was put on first to justify invading Iraq, which Trump himself saw through as a lie.
Today, we have attacked a sovereign country proper which has not threatened the United States, and without evidence of what the substance involved was, where it came from, who used it (if it was used), and even under the "America First" mantle, without any clear benefit to our country.
Now, without even assembling a coalition of sorts and trying at least to gain public support, the United States has drastically escalated matters by attacking the Syrian government itself, which also happens to be Russia's and Iran's close ally and proxy.
Two hard questions must be asked, followed by my hypotheses:
1. Why is Trump so decisive in this matter?
- Trump is under immense pressure in the Russian hacking probe, and wants to show his tough stance on Russia's proxy Syria in order to deflect criticism that he is soft on Russia.
- Trump wants to differentiate himself from Obama, whose (in)famous red line proclamation led to little concrete engagement; Trump wants to be seen as someone who is stronger than Obama.
- Trump's background is in risk-taking and business negotiations, and Trump sees this as an opportunity to raise his negotiation ante in Syria and to affirmatively assert American military power as a bargaining chip. This is in contrast with Obama, whose legal background and observations of the George W. Bush foreign policy failures have likely made Obama much more cautious with military engagements.
2. Did the Syrian government actually use chemical weapons?
Yes, because...? I really can't think of a reason why it would resort to chemical weapons. A few civilians were killed, but no tactical or strategic objective that I could find (based on my very limited, outsider research) justified the deployment of chemical weapons.
No. Logic would say that the Syrian government itself did not affirmatively authorize the chemical weapons attack. What might have really happened?
- The Syrian government already warranted to the world that it has given up all of its chemical weapons stockpile. To sneak a deployment now makes it lose credibility and lessens the ability of Russia to cover for it on the United Nations Security Council.
- This latest alleged deployment of chemical weapons by the Syrian government made no tactical or strategic sense; it killed some civilians, but did not achieve any great benefit or objective. If its deployment resulted in the killing of some Islamic State leader in Raqqa, for example, then there might be a tangible benefit. In other words, the potential costs (international condemnation, escalation of and justification for US involvement) far outweighed any potential benefits.
- The United States has not presented concrete evidence that the Syrian government is culpable before its current decision to bomb the Syrian government.
- Another rebel group, such as the Islamic State, might have gotten a hold of chemical weapons and deployed it to drag the United States into a more protracted conflict so as to ensure the rebel group's own survival in a multilateral war.
- Russia asserts that the Syrian government bombed a rebel chemical weapons depot, which then caused the inadvertent release of nerve gas. This claim is rejected by Western sources as impossible (these same sources claim chemical weapons were used by the Syrian government on an ongoing basis, yet none of such evidence of prior chemical weapons usage has been previously used to justify directly attacking the Syrian government).
- During World War 2, even as Nazi Germany was nearing defeat, Germany did not use its chemical weapons stockpile militarily. During World War 2, even as the Japanese were nearing defeat, Japan did not use its chemical weapons stockpile militarily against the Western Allies, despite extremely brutal and suicidal resistance (the Japanese did use chemical weapons against Asian opponents, such as in China). Despite having them, why did neither the Nazis nor the Japanese use chemical weapons during World War 2, with the latter reserving such use only against other Asian countries? The most likely explanation is that the employment of chemical weapons would have invited retaliation by chemical weapons, which in turn would likely result in mass civilian casualties. Thus, all combatants, though engaged in a war to the finish, each made a strategic decision to refrain from chemical warfare. This historical knowledge then ties in with my first and second points, in that the Syrian government is hardly stupid for having survived years of rebellion, and will most likely not have ordered this deployment of chemical weapons, especially for hardly any gain.
- Maybe it was an accident on the Syrian government's part -- a soldier accidentally loaded the wrong ordinance. But even in such a scenario, striking a foreign, sovereign government first without first whipping up domestic and diplomatic support for this decision is a dangerous gamble, and risks backlash and accusations that evidence is manufactured (perhaps Trump considered this possibility and wanted to preempt a lengthy, drawn-out debate which might kill such a decision through sheer inertia, which might then present Trump as "indecisive").
Whatever the case, for better or worse, the United States has just directly escalated its direct involvement in a third war in the Middle East on little evidence, no international concurrence, no consent from allies or the United Nations Security Council, and with virtually no public buy-in. To me, the decision to bomb the Syrian government today is procedurally and factually faulty, makes no strategic sense, and if words once said cannot be taken back, certainly bombs cannot be taken back once exploded.