COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., April 9, 2017—President Trump’s ordered missile strike on Syria was, without question, the right thing to do. Pundits and politicians since have either supported his action–or condemned it, citing a wide variety of mostly irrelevant concerns. Leftists have once again discovered the Constitution, although the meaning still escapes them. CNN has re-discovered that they like Russia and its President Putin, as Putin criticizes their mutual enemy.
Let’s look at the facts.
The series of events started Tuesday when Syria used chemical weapons against its own people in a rebel-held town. There is still speculation as to what kind of chemical weapon was used. Sarin is suspected because the Assad regime is known to have sarin and used it in 2013.
There has also been speculation as to whether the weapons were produced by Syria or were obtained from Saddam Hussein. At the time of the first Gulf War in 1991 it was widely believed that Hussein shipped his chemical weapons to Syria in advance of the allied attack. Where Assad got the weapons may be interesting, but irrelevant: he has them and he used them.
Susan Rice’s claim that the Obama administration talked Syria out of their chemical weapons holds little water in light of last week’s use of them. In 2013, after the last Syrian use of chemical weapons, the U.S. put pressure on Syria to relinquish the weapons. In September 2013, Syria acceded to the U.N. treaty banning the stockpiling and use of chemical weapons, known as the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), of 1993.
Serious international efforts to ban chemical weapons began after World War I, when mustard gas was widely used on the Western Front. A ban on their use was written into the Treaty of Versailles and other peace treaties ending the war. This prohibited the defeated Central Powers from using poisonous gasses. In 1925 the Geneva Protocol made that prohibition general. The Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993 has further broadened the prohibition.
International law is just a series of treaties that member states agree to. Syria agreed to the Chemical Weapons Convention. In violating the treaty, they violated international law.
Some sources have suggested that the rebels made the attack. Assad and the Russians would like you to believe that, but it is not possible. The rebels don’t have aircraft. The rebels don’t have the facilities necessary to develop and deliver these weapons. Assad did it.
What’s the appropriate response?
Finger-wagging doesn’t work with dictators. Obama, Kerry and Rice proved that once again. The U.N. could take action but it hasn’t. Ambassador Nikki Haley said it well: If the U.N. won’t act, then the U.S. will. States have the right to punish violations of international law. That is most commonly seen in punishing acts of piracy.
The response should be proportionate. This response was: a guided missile attack on the airfield that was used to carry out the attack.
When Putin or critics in America say the attack was an act of war, they’re wrong. This was no unprovoked attack like Germany invading Poland in 1939 or, more recently, Russia moving in to Crimea. This was a textbook case of the appropriate use of force to punish a clear violation of international law.
Criticism of how the action was carried out is also misplaced.
Under the Constitution, the president is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, but Congress has the right to declare war. There are many circumstances, however, when the use of force is needed but it amounts to something less than (or different from) Congress declaring war on a foreign power.
In 1973, the War Powers Act sought to define those circumstances in response to then-President Nixon’s unilateral invasion of Cambodia. Critics on the left ought to remember that this was crafted by a Democrat-controlled Congress. The act allows the president to act—but to keep Congress informed and to make a formal report within 30 days.
Democrats should remember that their very own president refused to do either when he bombed Libya in 2011.
Trump, on the other hand, did it right. He did notify key members of Congress in advance. Although not required, he notified allies as well. He even warned Russia. The New York Times has it completely wrong.
Some wring their hands over what this might mean for the future of our involvement in Syria.
This does not need to mean anything. If not further action is taken—and the DoD has said they have no further plans—then this act stands on its own as punishment for violation of international law. If further action is contemplated, then a new rationale is also needed. Cooperation from the U.N. and our allies would also be warranted, as then-President George H.W. Bush did in 1990-91.
During the Cold War, the U.S. would support dictators as long as they were anti-communist. That’s no longer the case. We don’t have the right to decide who’s going to run Syria any more than the previous administration didn’t have the right to decide who was going to run Egypt. Good choices are sometimes hard to come by. Punishing Assad for using chemical weapons does not imply our support for any rebel faction.
One thing is certain: the policy of non-engagement pursued by the prior administration doesn’t work. Like it or not, we are the most powerful country in the world. Not to act is to act. Silence in the face of evil is itself evil.
Trump did not remain silent. He made a powerful statement.