Trump’s Syrian decision needed further deliberation

Tartan Board Apr 10, 2017

On Thursday, April 9, President Donald Trump ordered the launch of 59 Tomahawk missiles, which struck Al Shayrat airfield in Syria and resulted in the deaths of 15 people and further uncertain global consequences.

According to Trump, the decision to launch the missiles was a direct response to the brutal chemical attack that killed dozens of people — many of them children — in the Idlib province in northwestern Syria on April 4. He said it was “vital [to] national security” that the United States “prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons,” mentioning despair over the infants who were harmed and an overall desire to “end the slaughter and bloodshed” as an explanation for his actions — sympathies that many Americans share and want our country to act on.

But Trump, who was resolutely against taking actionagainst Syria until this decision, acted quickly and without the approval of Congress — for all we know, he acted without any concrete plans for his next move at all. Furthermore, he may have inspired the disapproval, or downright anger, of many other countries thanks to his impulsive choice. Russia has condemned the strike as a “disgraceful attack,” and Germany and France have refused to endorse the attack.

Tuesday’s chemical attack, which reportedly originated at the airfield, was carried out early in the morning when many were still sleeping. Eyewitnesses at the scene reported waking to the sound of an explosion, only to go outside and find people in the street choking and unable to move, with constricted pupils. Other symptoms included vomiting, fainting, and foaming at the mouth. Later in the day, rockets were fired at the hospitals and clinics treating the survivors of the first attack, burying doctors and patients in rubble.

The death toll of the attacks varies by account, but most likely falls somewhere between 50 and 100 — and the number injured throughout the day is thought to be much greater. Both the Syrian government and the Russian government are denying their involvement in the attacks, but the United States maintains that Syria was behind the attack and Russia was “complicit.”

Trump’s decision to attack the airfield may be an important first step in the effort to put an end to the excessive violence against the Syrian people, but it’s too soon to say. At this point, we have no way of knowing that his actions won’t also have harmful consequences of their own. Based on his record and what we know about the attack, there is reason to doubt whether he even considered such an impact before moving forward with the attack.

Concerning to many is the fact that Congress was not involved in the decision to launch the missiles. Trump ordered the attack after only two days of deliberations with his own security advisors — and some meetings actually took place, not in the White House, but at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

Whether the strike was legal in the United States or not is the subject of debate in the media — murky precedents regarding national interests, the War Powers Resolution, and the actions of former presidents have been used to frame the decision as a misuse of presidential powers or a justified humanitarian intervention that will also protect American interests in the end. Either way, involving more people in the decision would have been a guarantee that the possible consequences of the strike had been more thoroughly considered and accounted for in plans for the future.

Such repercussions, if they come, would develop from the international response to the strike. Already, countries have been responding to Trump’s decision, and some of their reactions haven’t been very supportive. Russia, Iran, and China strongly oppose the strike, condemning the United States’ decision and even suggesting that Trump violated international policies by acting against Syria.

More complications could ensue if it turns out that Trump did break international law. According to the United Nations Charter, which the United States has ratified, the only valid reasons for using force on another country’s soil are for self defense, or with the permission of the United Nations Security Council. Trump’s reason for attack — preventing Syria from further use of chemical weapons — was not self defense. The Council, like Congress, was not a part of Trump’s decision. One can argue many reasons why the attacks were necessary, and many reasons why they weren’t. What remains, however, is that the decision should have been more carefully deliberated.

Can we applaud the choices of a man who acts with no serious thought for those he leads or what impact his impulses may have on a global scale? Can we condemn an action that might have been an important stand against the slaughter of innocent men, women, and children in a country that has suffered for far too long? With an issue as nuanced and volatile as this one, perhaps the best way forward is one that involves many careful minds working together and carefully weighing every option. Trump needs to be sure he comprehends the serious impact his actions could have as he considers his next move. The lives of those suffering in Syria are of utmost importance, but so is the safety of Americans and other people across the globe.