Last Tuesday, President Trump said during a news conference with leaders of the Baltic nations that he has the full intention of ending United States involvement in the Syrian Civil War.
“I want to get out — I want to bring our troops back home, “It’s time. We were very successful against ISIS,” he said.
I was relieved.
But then Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against his own people again over the weekend.
Now, the president is promising harsh action in response.
I understand his impulse, though if he is going to strike in any way, the president has to do it in a targeted and measured way like he did when Assad acted up last year.
As much as I do not like military strikes of any kind, I also realize the only thing worse would be to threaten force and then not deliver.
In 2012, President Obama now famously warned Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad that any use of chemical weapons would constitute the metaphorical crossing of a “red line” and would be met with military action.
He began systematically drone bombing in Syria and arming the rebel forces fighting Assad, but did not make the kind of grand military strike people were expecting.
That is what led us to the point where Donald Trump got elected and finally made good on that red line promise, which he recognized had to be done to maintain global strength and respect.
Many on both sides of the aisle pushed President Trump to intervene from the day he took office due to Assad’s continued misbehavior, and in April of last year, he launched a targeted strike on Syria.
I was hoping it would end there, but unfortunately, that that did not seem to be the case.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis talked about a more pronounced and permanent presence in Syria, including a full-throated push to force Assad out of power.
That would have been a mistake. A big mistake.
But even if regime change would have been a bad idea, something has to be done to let Assad know his actions have consequences.
I am a supporter of the president, and at the time this was being considered, I offered him some words of wisdom from a very prominent world leader who seemed to agree with me that intensifying our military efforts in Syria would be a bad idea.
“If the U.S. attacks Syria and hits the wrong targets, killing civilians, there will be worldwide hell to pay. Stay away and fix broken U.S.”
In another statement, this same prominent world leader said, “We should stay the hell out of Syria, the ‘rebels’ are just as bad as the current regime. What will we get for our lives and billions of dollars? Zero.”
Finally, this same world leader wondered aloud, “What will we get for bombing Syria besides more debt and a possible long-term conflict?”
If you guessed that the world leader I’m referring to is President Trump, you are correct. Those were tweets he sent out in 2013 when President Obama was pushing involvement in the Syrian conflict. He was beat back at the time, although as I mentioned, he simply began drone bombing them instead.
I said this about Vladimir Putin and I will say it about Bashar al-Assad as well: he is a very bad man and I weep for his victims.
But while we must show him we will not tolerate his malfeasance, we simply cannot be the world’s policemen going around overthrowing dictators.
We have done it countless times and it always ends in absolute disaster. The disastrous results of what happened when we toppled governments in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Nicaragua, unfortunately tell that tale all too well.
Regardless of intentions, the unintended consequences — piles of bodies and a regime that takes over and ends up being even worse than the one it is replacing — are often staggeringly terrible both for the country we are invading and for us.
I sympathize with those who want Asaad out, but greater intervention is not only going to be ineffective in the long run, it is also going to get a lot more people killed.
It would be Iraq all over again.
Is leaving altogether a perfect solution? No, of course not.
But what I do know is that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and our history shows that an operation to depose Assad would likely cause more problems than it would solve.
I am glad President Trump appears to be listening to his own words from 2013, rather than those of the bloodthirsty foreign policy establishment that dragged us into perpetual Middle Eastern war in the first place.
Punishing Assad makes sense, but overthrowing him does not.