INTERNATIONALLY, leaders and analysts are speculating whether President Donald Trump proclaimed a Trump doctrine when he ordered a missile strike against Syria to punish President Bashar al-Assad’s nerve gas attack on his own people just a week earlier.
The world should wait for Trump and the While House to say whether the missile strike stated a new doctrine or not.
In taking such an aggressive and devastating action on Thursday night, Trump unquestionably sent a strong, robust message of US resolve—not just to Damascus but also to other potential US opponents such as Russia, China, Iran, and most particularly, North Korea.
It was also a clear message to US allies, including the Philippines, who have sorely missed US leadership on world issues, while former President Barack Obama was just busy wringing his hands.
Trump has won wide support for his Syria strike and praise for his readiness to act and act swiftly. In contrast, Obama is being dismissed as a weak leader for the free world. One European commentator has spoken dismissively of Obama’s “decisive indecision.”
Barack Obama is criticized mainly for his failure to act after Syria’s chemical strike in 2013, after he had declared a red line on the use of chemical warfare.
Obama compounded his mistake when he yielded too readily to a Russia-brokered deal that averted US military action, on a pledge made to Russia that Syria would give up its poison gas stockpiles. Assad did not give his stocks; and instead used them.
Trump to his credit decided to act and punish Assad. He was in no way deterred by what Russia might say. To the contrary, Thursday’s strike placed Russia in a quandary, confused on what to do.
Syria had signed and breached the Chemical Weapons Convention, and now has been justly punished.
The speed with which Trump ordered the strikes is truly a welcome shift from the Obama administration, which often discussed such actions in advance.
In hitting just, a single air base, the overnight strikes were also much more limited than the military action Washington was considering after the 2013 chemical attack.
The Trump administration has made it clear that its main priority in Syria continues to be tackling the Islamic State, and an assault is gradually looming on the IS de facto capital of Raqqa.
Significantly, the US has stopped talking about bringing down Assad, It has no appetite for a troop-heavy intervention, which could bring back the war lessons of Iraq and Libya. Removing regional strongmen is often a bad idea.
For now at least, the Syria strike appears to be a limited punishment, and not the start of another US-backed regime change in the Middle East.
No doubt, Trump also meant to send a message to North Korea—and its primary backer China, whose president Xi Jinping was dining with Trump the night of the missile strike.
Perhaps the most significant gain for the US from the Syria strike is the newfound credibility of US power. Opponents know this, and so do US allies.
It’s a different world from the time of the US pivot to Asia. The rhetoric is less.
The people who just last week portrayed Vladimir Putin as “the most powerful man in the world”, and Angela Merkel as “the new leader of the free world” are surely rethinking their hasty judgments.