Today’s Syria chemical attack was an atrocity not seen in years. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces dropped chemical weapons on innocent men, women and children in Syria’s Idlib Province. At least 58 people were killed with even more wounded. The moment that the attack was known, it was clear to the world that it was not only a morally repugnant act, but a war crime. However, with the exception of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, the Trump administration reacted quite poorly to this horrific massacre of civilians.
When asked about the attack by reporters, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said nothing and walked away from the cameras only to release a written statement a few hours later. The White House also issued a written statement from President Trump, but it placed blame on former President Obama:
Today’s chemical attack in Syria against innocent people, including women and children, is reprehensible and cannot be ignored by the civilized world. These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the past administration’s weakness and irresolution. President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a “red line” against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing. The United States stands with our allies across the globe to condemn this intolerable attack.
Barack Obama absolutely is deserving of major blame for his actions (or lack of action) on Syria, as on his watch the country disintegrated into its present state (more on this shortly). However, Trump pointing the finger at him in this statement was not appropriate. As president, he has the power to actually prevent such attacks by stabilizing Syria. However, Trump has signaled previously, as well as with today’s statement on the Syria chemical attack, that it is not high on his list of priorities. Such an attitude could actually embolden Assad and his generals to commit further atrocities and war crimes against their own people.
Many Americans feel that Trump is right to not engage in “somebody else’s problem,” but they are wrong. As Noah Rothman wrote last week, it is in the best interest of American security that we intervene in Syria:
Preventing the outbreak of conflict between American allies in Syria is in the vital interests of the United States. So, too, is the overdue containment of the Syrian conflict. The spread of ISIS terrorists and their militant ideology around the globe is among the greatest preventable tragedies of this decade.
Should we ignore the problem and not intervene, not only will today’s Syria chemical attack be repeated, but the United States will be viewed as weak and as allowing dangerous situations to build without repercussion. More problems would rise, as our enemies would be emboldened by our retreat.
There is no doubt that the conflict in Syria enabled ISIS to grow and flourish during President Obama’s time in office. He made many mistakes that permitted the crisis in Syria to reach the point that it is at today. Some were jaw-droppingly bad, such as arguing that Russia’s diplomatic efforts would help keep the United States from intervening militarily, and his famous “red line” that, if crossed, he would take action. Of course, when it was crossed, Obama did not take action.
Then there is the global impact of Obama’s Syria failure. It arguably is the root cause of Europe’s migrant crisis, as the number Syrian migrants applying for asylum in Europe outnumbered migrants from any other country by a least double. Syria’s conflict also helped ISIS export its brand of terror to European countries, which resulted in terror attacks in Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, and more European nations. In turn, Nationalism surged among citizens of these European nations and now nationalist candidates for office are being supported by more than just fringe elements of the voting populace.
In his December 2016 end of year press conference, despite all of his mistakes and his abject failure of leadership, Barack Obama had the nerve to claim that because of him, Syria was a success.
Now, Donald Trump is president and the conflict in Syria is his responsibility. It is vital for American national security that he intervene and stabilize the region so that ISIS will no longer grow and prevent American allied Syrian rebels do not turn on one another. Furthermore, as president, Trump has a moral responsibility to prevent future war crimes such as today’s Syria chemical attack.
As a presidential candidate, Trump excoriated Obama for not showing any leadership to the world. However, his reaction to the Syria chemical attack showed he was not willing to stand up and prevent future horrors. Now is a good time for President Trump to show the leadership required to end the Syrian conflict. Should he fail to do so, both Trump and Obama will share the blame for the Syrian tragedy.