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What is Wrong With Trump’s Attack on Syria?

Trump may have acted with insufficient evidence as to whether the chemical weapons attack was actually the responsibility of Assad and the Syrian government.  Would Syrian president Assad be foolish enough to launch a chemical attack against civilians, when a military response from the US would be possible, even likely?  Peter Ford, a former UK ambassador to Syria, speaking on BBC Radio, said, “It doesn’t make sense that Assad would do it.  Let’s not leave our brains outside the door when we examine evidence. It would be totally self-defeating as shown by the results…Assad is not mad.”

Critics of the US military response have suggested as a possible scenario for the chemical release in Idlib province that the Syrian government attack may have been a conventional bombing that exploded stored weapons in the possession of the Syrian rebels, which may have included chemical weapons.

Trump did not seek and obtain Congressional authorization for his act of war in attacking a Syrian Air Force base.  Thus, the attack was illegal under US law.  It is not the president’s prerogative to initiate attacks against sovereign nations without Congressional authorization.  By acting without such Congressional authorization, Trump has placed himself and the presidency above the rule of law.

Trump did not seek and obtain authorization for his attack against Syria from the United Nations Security Council, as is required under international law.  By failing to do so the US has put itself outside the boundaries of the UN Charter, which is also a part of US law, as well as other international law to which the US is bound.

Trump has further undermined US relations with Russia, and has harmed the chances of the US and Russia working cooperatively in resolving the Syrian conflict.  Increased tensions between the US and Russia in Syria make conflict between these two nuclear powers more likely.

Trump has demonstrated to the world that in matters of war, as with tweeting, he is impulsive, shoots from the hip and is not constrained by US or international law.  These characteristics are not generally accepted by other world leaders as being preferred qualities in a US president.

Trump’s impulsivity in ordering the attack sets a dangerous standard for someone in charge of the US nuclear arsenal.  It demonstrates the extreme dangers of allowing a single individual to exercise control over a country’s nuclear arsenal.

Despite the illegality and inherent dangers of his military response, Trump seems to be getting a favorable response from the US media.  Nearly all US mainstream media seems to have accepted the assumption that Assad was foolish enough to have launched a chemical attack, and have not questioned Assad’s responsibility for the chemical attack.  It appears that neither the US government nor media have conducted a thorough investigation of responsibility for the chemical attack, which should have been done prior to a military response.

Referring to Trump’s ordering the missile strikes against Syria the evening before, a fawning Fareed Zakaria stated, “I think Donald Trump became president of the United States last night.  I think this was actually a big moment.”  Given Trump’s narcissism, this is the kind of positive response that is likely to keep him returning to impulsive and illegal uses of military force.

For his violations of US and international law in attacking Syria with 59 cruise missiles, it is highly likely that Trump will also be rewarded by the American people with an upward bump in his current ground-level job-approval rating.  Too many Americans tend to like their presidents to be fast on the draw and follow the pattern of Ready, Fire, Aim.

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David Krieger is President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org). 

February 19, 2019
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