Trump’s missile attack on Syria stuns allies, foes

Jim Watson, AFP | US President Donald Trump’s decision to order missile strikes on a Syrian regime airbase represents an about-turn on his Syria strategy.

Long before he launched his 2016 campaign, Donald Trump firmly opposed US military intervention in Syria. So when the US president ordered missile strikes on a Syrian airbase Friday, it caught both his admirers and detractors by surprise.


In the summer of 2013, as then US president Barack Obama was considering a response to the Syrian regime’s deadly chemical attack in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, reality TV host and frenetic tweeter Trump was losing his cool over the prospect of a US military intervention in Syria.

Abandoning online civility, Trump posted a tweet in all caps on September 5, 2013, that warned: “Again, to our very foolish leader, do not attack Syria – if you do many very bad things will happen & from that fight the U.S. gets nothing!”

A week later, Trump was back on Twitter, this time excoriating US foreign policy and laying the foundation for his central message on the 2016 presidential campaign trail. “We should stop talking, stay out of Syria and other countries that hate us, rebuild our own country and make it strong and great again – USA!” read a Trump tweet posted September 13, 2013.

And yet, barely four years later, the isolationist billionaire crossed his own red line when he announced early Friday that he had “ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched”.

The US fired 59 Tomahawk missiles cruise missiles on Friday from two warships in the Mediterranean at the Shayrat airfield near the Syrian city of Homs. US officials believe Tuesday's deadly chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun was launched from the base.

‘Done with Trump’

While Trump’s policy reversal on Syria was welcomed by a number of Republican senators that viewed as establishment figures, his intervention has dismayed his anti-establishment supporters.

A tweet by US conservative commentator and radio talk show host, Laura Ingraham, summed up this disenchantment. Angry over Trump’s embrace of policies touted by the Democrat and Republican establishments, she singled out Republican Senators John McCain and Marco Rubio, as well as Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for particular criticism: “Missiles flying,” Ingraham tweeted. “Rubio’s happy. McCain ecstatic. Hillary’s on board. A complete policy change in 48 hours.”

On the far-right Breitbart News website, the lead piece on the US strikes in Syria Friday morning featured more than 2,500 responses by readers furious about the president’s foreign policy about-face. Trump’s decision to strike a vital military asset of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime also represents a repudiation of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Syria policy.

“Marco Rubio is in favor of the strikes and John McCain feels there is balance starting to return to Washington. With support like that Mr. Trump you are likely headed in the wrong direction,” wrote one reader, while another simply maintained, “Trump has some explaining to do. This isn't what I voted for.”

Another respondent, who identified himself as “Big Daddy,” linked the decision to a fallout between White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, that has been widely reported by US media.

“I'm DONE WITH TRUMP!!!” wrote Big Daddy. “Assad wouldn't go and kill a bunch of kids when he had our support. This is a CIA FALSE FLAG to help Kushners Isreal [sic] enrichment at OUR expense. I thought Trump was smarter than that. Now I know what Bannon and Kushner had their disagreement over.”

Donning the commander-in-chief mantle

The fallout between Bannon and Kushner is the latest of many upheavals in the White House since Trump took office in January.

Domestic woes have led many presidents to launch military interventions against a foreign enemy and Trump could well be on a familiar path, suggests FRANCE 24’s foreign affairs commentator, Douglas Herbert.

“He’s gone from being on the defensive on the domestic front, from being a president who’s under scrutiny under multiple congressional probes, plus the FBI, historically low approval ratings … a president who has been under attack even from members within his own party, suffering legislative setback after legislative setback. Suddenly, he is able to do what a lot of presidents have done…all of a sudden, you’re able to don the mantle of commander-in-chief,” explained Herbert. “Typically, public opinion and also congressional opinion tends to rally behind presidents who do this.”

Early reactions to the strikes by Republican congressional representatives have been positive. Republican senators such as McCain and Lindsey Graham have welcomed Trump’s announcement, saying he deserves the support of the American people because he took action against Syria, unlike Obama.

A number of Democrats have also welcomed the development although they have warned that any longer-term or larger military operation in Syria requires congressional approval.

International reactions to the air strikes have also largely been favourable, with French President François Hollande noting that US strikes were what France had been seeking back in 2013 after the Ghouta chemical attack.

Russia and Iran, which both have troops in Syria, condemned the US action, however. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia will demand an explanation from the United States over its decision to launch strikes, calling it a “provocation”. Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said that Iran "strongly condemns” the unilateral strikes, adding: “Such measures will strengthen terrorists in Syria.”

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