The Syrian Airstrike: Measured, Discriminate, & Just

The Syrian Airstrike: Measured, Discriminate, & Just

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.

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  • Matt Gobush

    Although I do not share your glee about Friday’s missile strikes in Syria – should we really be thanking God that, in our fallen state, duty demands we break His sixth commandment? – I do agree with President Trump’s decision, assuming he is serious about the radical change in direction it represents. The rationale the president gave relied heavily on international law and the will of the United Nations – no “America First” to be found. He did assert that preventing CW proliferation is in the U.S. “vital national security interest,” a welcome reversal from his previous neo-isolationist position and suggesting he would assume responsibility for upholding international peace and justice, even if American citizens, territory and assets are not immediately impacted. Your Parthian shot at President Obama’s “doctrine of nonintervention” is unfair (did he “nonintervene” to liquidate Osama bin Laden?). In the case of Syria, President Obama sought multilateral support before using force in support of an indirect interest of the United States – a defensible doctrine in keeping with Reinhold Niebuhr’s Christian realist perspective, as I argue in my essay in Providence last year. Finally, it is worth noting that, for the use of force to be just, according to the classic tradition, it must be done not only in a just cause and with legitimate authority, but also right intention. This last criterion requires we discern the president’s true motives and the inner workings of his heart. Given his past equivocations, his motives are not beyond doubt – although I am willing to give him the benefit of it, for now.

    • DDS

      My glee is only that after 500,000+ people have been murdered, many of whom are innocents, we have finally punched the evil doers back. BTW, many Syrian friends are literally thanking God. If your people were under attack from this monster I imagine you might to. I know I would. When I say “nonintervention” I mean Obama’s overwhelming preference for surgical, low involvement, low risk approach – hence the exponential uptick in drone attacks and the bin Laden raid (i support both). Yet, I think the policy basically emboldened bad actors to behave worse, regardless of the president’s intentions. On Syria, I think Obama’s inaction was not based on principle, or at least not how you construed it in your essay. I think you made his position more principled and consistent than it actually was. Further, even if we grant your position, I think this form of Christian realism does not square with the Just War tradition. There is a tension between the two. On your last point, I’m pretty sure that right intention is not about discerning the inner heart (is not the heart beyond discerning?) but that war is undertaken with a will to correct/punish the wrongdoer and reestablish the peace as the final end state (Aquinas and Augustine). I take it words may help in some respect but words in politics are not always reflective of one’s true motives.