Saturday, April 14, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He declared "mission accomplished" in Syria.

In May of 2003, then-President George W. Bush declared "mission accomplished" in the Iraq War at a gaudy celebration on the deck of an aircraft carrier. The war lasted another eight years and virtually all of the American casualties, including thousands of deaths, took place after Bush's announcement. Military and anti-war voices alike were withering in their criticism of Bush, who later admitted that it had been a mistake to celebrate the end of just the first and easiest phase of the conflict.

Today, Trump--apparently unaware of Bush's famous gaffe--declared "mission accomplished" in Syria after a "perfectly executed" round of missile and airstrikes on various targets.

However, it's not clear what "mission" Trump is referring to. Nobody (with the possible exception of Trump) believes that Syria's chemical weapons stores were or could be destroyed in a single airstrike. The weapons involved can easily be hidden almost anywhere, and can be deployed by helicopter. The Assad regime had ample warning of the strike (via Trump's own Twitter feed, but also because the US military informed Assad's Russian allies of the incoming attack). As a result, virtually no damage was done to Syria's military infrastructure--which was intentional

While Trump seemed to be committing to an ongoing campaign in his announcement of Friday's attack, he was once again contradicting his own defense officials, who referred to the strike as a "one-time shot." He was also contradicting his own decision last week to withdraw unilaterally from the conflict, which the Defense Department also vigorously opposed--in part because it would signal the Assad regime that it had a free hand to do what it liked.

Which of these options Trump favors at this moment--immediate and total withdrawal, or escalation--isn't clear.

Why is this a problem?

  • You cannot simultaneously escalate and withdraw from a war, and a competent commander-in-chief would know that.
  • 2003 wasn't that long ago.