Last night two US destroyers—the USS Ross and USS Porter—in an airstrike at 8:45 pm ET delivered 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles hitting the Al-Shayrat air base in Syria. The strike was proportional, hitting airplanes, radars, and other specific targets designed to cripple Syrian air capabilities. This was in response to the Sarin gas bombs that were dropped by the Assad regime in a small village in a rebel-held area roughly 72 hours ago. Watch the videos of those who suffered from these attacks. It will make you sick. Little babies were killed. Others were being washed from chemical burns. Chemical weapons have been banned from use in warfare since the signing of the Geneva Protocol after World War 1.
The overwhelming response for this strike should be: Thank God! I mean that. It will not solve everything, but this small proportional strike will go a long way to reestablishing America’s moral leadership in the Middle East and the world. North Korea is watching. Iran is watching. China is watching. Russia is watching. Trump’s decisive and swift actions against this barbaric and gross violation of international law is a positive step towards America regaining the trust and credibility that it lost under the last administration. This is also a major victory for Secretary of Defense Mattis and National Security Adviser General McMaster. Both men are revered within the military as warriors but also for their character and intellect.
Trump’s statement afterwards was his best address to date. By a mile. It was heartfelt, sober, and resolute. It conveyed deep sympathy for those who suffered. “No child of God should every suffer such horror” was delivered with conviction. He made a call to stop the violence and bloodshed in Syria. This could be a major turning point for the administration and for the conflict. Senators McCain and Graham called for a major change of policy in Syria. One can only hope that last night will be seen as a major turn in the conflict that has consumed so many innocent lives and caused chaos throughout the region and world.
Much of the world is sighing a collective sigh of relief today. By now I hope we have established the Obama doctrine in Syria was an abject failure. Nonintervention is neither a sustainable long term strategy, nor a moral one. Finally, someone is willing to stand up to the Assad and the Russians who have been preying on these poor people for years. Finally, America has stood up to this mass murder and made him pay some sort of price for his depredations. The message Trump is sending to the world is that America will no longer stand idly by while the wolves prey on the sheep. There is a new sheriff in town, and he stands by his word.
As an aside: it has been amusing to see the popular opinion of those who support the so-called liberal international order imagine that Angela Merkel is now the sole defender of that order. That Germany has virtually no capability to stand up to the likes of the Assad regime should put these rather quaint notions to bed. Upholding Western values and the international order requires hard power and the willingness to use it when warranted and necessary. Maybe the Germans will finally pony up the 2% GDP requirement for NATO members. I am not counting on it.
Today we should be heartened by the actions of our president and military. Tyrants around the world will sleep a little less peacefully tonight. But just as one swallow does not a spring make, one strike does not a war win. We can only pray that Trump and his national security team can muster the strength, wisdom, and courage to stay the course. Godspeed.
Daniel Strand is a postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Political Thought and Leadership at the Arizona State University. His scholarly interests are in history of political thought, religion and politics, and the thought of St. Augustine of Hippo.
Photo Credit: The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Ross fires a tomahawk land attack missile while conducting naval operations in the Mediterranean Sea, April 7, 2017. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Robert S. Price.