I’m not a Donald Trump fan — but I believe credit should be given when deserved. President Trump’s decision to launch 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Syrian air instillations was both the strategic and moral decision to make.
For the last six years, Syria has been locked in one of the deadliest civil wars in modern history, as nearly 450,000 civilians and soldiers have died. The brutality and length of the conflict has revealed some of the darkest corners of man’s capacity to inflict pain and loss on itself. The sheer destruction of this conflict has leveled cities, ruined families, displaced 7.5 million from their homes and forced 4.5 million to flee the country as refugees. Syria’s civil war has been, without question, a war of immense pain and misery.
At the helm of this crisis stands one man: Bashar al-Assad — Syria’s autocratic president. The son of Syria’s former president, Hafez al-Assad, Assad once maintained complete and absolute control over the Syrian people. However, the powerful tide of the Arab Spring turned Syria’s once absolutist dictatorship into a land of anarchy.
In a desperate attempt to save his own power, Assad violated international law by using chemical weapons against rebel forces. Yet the horrific effects of these weapons were not solely felt by the soldiers of the rebel army; instead, hundreds of innocent men, women and children were exposed to the toxic chemicals. Assad’s use of these weapons was not only illegal, but it also symbolized the worst of humanity. A dictatorial strongman used his power to end lives, ruin families and expose the world to the horror of chemical warfare.
In the wake of these attacks, the world’s most powerful nation did nothing. Under the leadership of President Obama, the United States simply stared at the problem and hoped that it would go away. No action was taken; no leadership was shown. And as the United States shrunk from its responsibility to defend those who could not defend themselves, a new power emerged in the Middle East: Russia. By supplying the Syrian government with weapons and air support, the Russian government effectively sanctioned the use chemical weapons and the killing of innocent civilians. And as Russia acted to support the sheer evil of Assad’s regime, we passively stood by and watched.
From a strategic standpoint, I understand Obama’s reluctance to intervene in the conflict. There is little appetite in this nation for another Middle Eastern war, as our conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, alongside the global War on Terror, have taken their toll. Furthermore, there are many within the foreign relations establishment that are wary of the United States removing another Middle Eastern strongman. The most recent removals of Middle Eastern dictators — specifically Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya — have not ended well. Hussein’s removal sparked a radical destabilization of political power in Iraq, as the new Iraqi parliament was unable to fully quell the warring Sunni, Shi’a and Kurdish factions within the nation. As a result of this instability, a powerful fundamentalist group was able to gain large swaths of Iraqi territory: ISIS. At the same time, the removal of Gaddafi in Libya created an intensely unstable state. Thus, concerns over another American intervention in Middle Eastern affairs are understandable.
Yet America’s unwillingness to act in the wake of blatant human rights violations is a sign of great weakness. It is the job of the world’s lone superpower to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves — and that involves reacting to the evil actions of rogue dictators. Standing idly by as countless civilians are poisoned by chemical weapons is not a luxury afforded to a nation that claims to lead the free world.
President Trump’s decision to attack Syrian air bases is good for multiple reasons. First, it shows that the United States is willing to stand up and fight for what it believes to be right. Second, it shows that America is not afraid to act in the wake of aggression. Finally, the action gives the appearance of decisiveness — and the appearance of decisiveness is one of the most important aspects of any nation’s capacity to project power.
While Trump’s foreign policy thus far has been an embarrassing roller-coaster, his latest decision was one he got right. By standing up to a tyrant, Trump has signaled to the world that the United States is prepared to defend the interests of free people across the globe. Though Trump has much to do to repair his (and America’s) image abroad, this is certainly a step in the right direction.
Michael Glanzel is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached a [email protected] Cornell Shrugged appears alternate Thursdays this semester.