Friday, April 07, 2017

Thoughts on Shayrat strike

One of my colleagues who is, like me, a libertarian, today asked my view of Trump's decision to strike Syria's Shayrat airbase.  He's quite skeptical of it, while I favor it, and he challenged me on several points.  First, he asked me whether I think it is Constitutional.  Frankly, I do not know, but my best guess is that it isn't (and I said so).  But if so, I also think it sets no new precedent and is far less serious than violations committed by Obama and Bush 43.

My argument in favor is consequentialist.  I think that, on net, the strike makes the world a safer place, for the following reasons.

1. The attack was on the military hardware used by Assad to launch chemical weapons attacks.  For Assad, the cost of using chemical weapons just increased enormously, and his capacity to use them has been reduced.  Human casualties seem minimal.

2.  Under Obama, America was a paper tiger, and the Russians, Iranians, North Koreans, and Chinese acted accordingly.  I suspect they'll now be more least the Russians and Chinese.  There may be some staring down, but America has a winning hand in that game, so long as Trump is willing to play it.

3. The BS about Trump being a Russian patsy is now obviously BS to any sane person.

4.  The dishonesty and incompetence of Obama, Clinton, Kerry, Rice, and the rest of those fools is exposed.

5.  America's reputation in the Arab and Muslim world has been boosted.

My friend's primary argument is that interventions unleash unintended and unanticipated consequences, and that there's danger in this.  That's no doubt true, but it's also the case that there's danger in doing nothing.  I think a world in which Assad can use sarin against civilians with impunity is a world in which Ali Khamenei and the Majlis, Kim Jong-un, and Vladimir Putin believe they can also do as they wish with impunity.  I also note that the Tomahawking was measured and appropriate.  It was directed against (and apparently largely disabled) the base from which the sarin attack was launched.  I can't think of any reason not to like that the Syrian Air Force lost 15 aircraft, as one report suggested.  At the same time, it's not an invasion, a commitment to further war or regime change, or anything else.  It's simply depriving a criminal of his weapons.  It's hard to imagine a more appropriately measured, limited response.  (Thanks, Mad Dog!)

The Russians are now in a huff, but so what.  I think there's very little they can do, and it's unclear why they'd gain from doing anything other than posturing.  But if they go farther and provoke a fight with the United States (something I gather my friend fears), well, they were eventually going to do it anyway then.  There's nothing in the Shayrat strike that would change Russia's calculus.

I don't know that I convinced my friend, but at least I've convinced myself.  This is how it all looks to me.

Interestingly enough, only a few hours before the missile strikes, Hillary Clinton said the U.S. ought to engage in airstrikes against Assad.  And as numerous observers have pointed out, Donald Trump has just enforced Barack Obama's red line.  Trump defending Obama's legacy, now that's an unforeseen contingency!

Photo: a Tomahawk lifts off from U.S.S. Ross. Go get 'em!

I agree. As you know, I am no supporter of Trump, but I think he did the right thing.
I agree. Thanks for your comment, Maya.
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