Trump launches direct attack on Syria

OK, so… as someone said on Twitter a few moments ago, Donald Trump has enforced Barack Obama’s “red line” in Syria.

What do I think about that?

Well, it’s complicated.

As a response, this is both measured and forceful. This is out of the Bill Clinton playbook, not George W. Bush’s: Fire some cruise missiles at them, and call the job done. The fact that it was, we are told, the base from which the gas attack was launched smacks of justice. The fact that we have now directly attacked the forces of Russia’s client is a serious cause for concern.

Of course, the fact that this is Donald Trump, a man who until yesterday had Steve Bannon of Breitbart in the most sensitive of national security inner circles, is very, very worrying.

By Trump standards, his statement tonight was measured, said the right things. The word choices were as usual inelegant (and therefore authentic), but the messages he was trying to communicate were the right ones. Will that be the case tomorrow, and the next day?

There’s the rub.

What will he do when the Russians do whatever they do? Talk about a scary complication to a relationship that we already had a lot of cause to worry about, in ways that were entirely different from this. Nothing is normal here. Who can predict what will happen?

I think, I think, I would be OK with this response to Assad’s war crimes, if any previous president had taken this action. I’d be worried, but I wouldn’t be as uneasy as I am now. Especially if I knew his national security team had thoroughly thought it out and was behind the action.

But now…

It’s like…

Any of y’all familiar with “Band of Brothers,” by which I mean the TV series based on the book based on real life? Are you familiar enough to know that the seventh episode, titled “The Breaking Point,” was the best in the series?

Well, I’ve been thinking about that part of the story today. And my thoughts have run this way: There was nobody in Easy Company — at least no one among the original Toccoa men — who wasn’t ready to do his duty and take the village of Foy, as the 101st struck back in the last days of the Bulge.

There was just one thing that made them hesitant: The idea of rushing across that open field toward the town under the leadership of the feckless Lieutenant Norman Dike.

Anyway, I think I’d be ready to follow just about any previous president across this open field of uncertainty.

But I’m really, really worried about Lt. Dike.

Yeah, I realize this isn’t very accessible to non-fans of the series. It’s just the best analogy I could think of to try to explain my reaction. I’m going to go to bed now, and see if I’m any wiser in the morning…

But would you follow if it was Lt. Dike leading?

But would you follow if it was Lt. Dike leading?

56 thoughts on “Trump launches direct attack on Syria

  1. bud

    The irony of the date these missiles were launched, April 6, 2017. (For those nitpickers out there yes it was April 7 in Syria).

    A couple of things. First, why now? They’ve been bombing hospitals, killing civilians and generally committing war crimes on a daily basis for a long time. The chemical attack was just another such atrocity. This really didn’t add any real horror to the region other than the imagery.

    Second, this is clearly an act of war against a sovereign nation yet nothing from congress. The president clearly and unambiguously overstepped his constitutional authority on this. In the other air strikes the president and his predecessors could at least hide behind the fig leaf of the 2002 resolution since that broadly covered terrorism. But this was substantially different in that it was specifically launched against an actual country not named Iraq. Congress for their part is strangely quite on this matter.

    Third, and this ties in with the second point, what now? Clearly this one strike does virtually nothing to eliminate the threat posed by the Assad regime. The Russians have already pretty much agreed to help him recover from whatever damage we did. Given that it seems like we’ve just wasted 59 expensive missiles on a meaningless action that probably did nothing more than add to the death toll. Given Trump’s feckless nature he may up the ante or he may simply declare victory and walk away. Either way congress must get involved. This should not be left to one narcissistic billionaire to decide.

    And one last point. Given Trump’s complete lack of interest in helping the refugees from this region how can this administration really get so incensed by a few dozen horrible deaths? If he really wants to help in some humanitarian way he needs to stop pushing his Muslim ban and get on with actually doing something positive. Otherwise he’s nothing but a showman.

  2. Claus2

    So Brad would be supportive of any previous President’s decision to do what Trump did, but since Trump did it he’s questioning his support.

    That sounds about right since Brad’s unwilling to support any decision Trump makes, and has to reach to Hollywood to make his point. Because Hollywood is so unbiased.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      That’s not exactly what I said. I said I’m more worried about the implications than I would be with a normal, sane president with a grounded, experienced staff. It’s the next steps that worry me. And Trump himself aside, the White House is in serious turmoil, with few grownups in the room.

      As to the second: I’m referring to history. I just cited the TV show about the book about the history because SOME folks on the blog have seen it. And, the show made a more memorable point about the problems with Lt. Dike.

      I don’t get your point about Hollywood. Nothing that I said has anything to do with Hollywood. It was about Dike. (Or at least, about Dike as he was remembered by surviving members of the company when the show was made. He died before the book was written, and long before the TV show.)

      To elaborate for those unfamiliar with the story:

      Dick Winters was the first officer to command Easy Company, 2nd battalion of the 506th PIR in combat, from D-Day through Operation Market Garden. He was the best-known of all the members of the storied company that historian Stephen Ambrose dubbed the “Band of Brothers.” He would forever be remembered as THE leader of Easy.

      But he was promoted to battalion XO in Holland. The capable officer chosen to replace him was accidentally shot by a sentry. So Norman Dike was named to command Easy, and he was in charge when the company was hastily thrown into the fight to defend Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge.

      Dike proved to be pretty useless as a commander, avoiding making decisions and often mysteriously absent when his soldiers needed him.

      Late in that battle, as the Allies started to go back onto the offensive, Easy was assigned to take the town of Foy from the Germans. Before that assault, the company’s first sergeant, Carwood Lipton, went to Winters to express his misgivings about following Dike into combat. Winters saw the problem, but saw no options for replacing him at that time.

      So Dike led the attack, and froze behind a haystack out in the middle of the field, with his men exposed in the open as German fire rained down on them. Winters sent another officer out onto the field to assume command of the company, and that officer led the men into Foy and succeeded in capturing it.

      Anyway, that’s what I was getting at. I wouldn’t have doubted Easy’s ability to take Foy, but I would have worried about their doing it behind Dike…

      1. Claus2

        So Band of Brothers’ battle scenes were 100% historically accurate… no Hollywood sensationalism added? I didn’t realize Ken Burns directed it. I wish my great uncle who was in the 99th Infantry Battalion (separate) would have lived to see BoB, his unit went through the same campaigns as in the series. to get his perspective on the series.

        I’d prefer Trump being behind the trigger on this than Obama wouldn’t think of pulling it, and if he did he’d send an apology letter shortly afterwards. Hillary wouldn’t pull it unless someone made a donation to the Clinton Foundation and paid her to pull it. Sanders would have dismantled the military so there wouldn’t be a trigger to pull.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          So would Doug.

          As for “So Band of Brothers’ battle scenes were 100% historically accurate…”

          No. For that matter, the book wasn’t 100 percent accurate. If we had a time machine to go back and check, we’d find that history isn’t 100 percent accurate — at least, not so everyone would agree.

          I know of a couple of mistakes Ambrose made in the book, relying as he did so much on old men’s memories. And if you follow that link I gave you to Norman Dike’s Wikipedia page, you’ll see where someone alleges that the reason he stopped advancing across that field was that he’d been wounded in the shoulder.

          After all this time, with Dike and most of the men he commanded dead, who knows?

          The people who get the harshest treatment in the story are Captain Sobel and Lt. Dike — both of whom were long dead before the book or the TV series. What we get is what the men who served with them remember. And in Dike’s defense, I’ll say that after Winters, almost anyone was going to look bad…

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Possibly the most glaring error in the series — and possibly in the book, though I’d have to go back and check:

            The series said Albert Blithe died in 1948, having never fully recovered from the wound he received in Normandy.

            He actually didn’t die until 1967, and somebody in the unit should have known that, since he died right after attending a commemorative ceremony at Bastogne. In fact, he was still in the Army. He had served in Korea….

  3. Hamurabi

    We can’t be doing this sort of stuff with the skeleton crew we have in Washington. It leaves too much up to too few. Can’t depend on McMaster to keep everything under control.

  4. Burl Burlingame

    It seems Trump warned the Russians first, who in turn warned the Syrians, so there was nobody in Dodge when the hard rain fell.

    1. Claus2

      Which I don’t have a problem with, and I’m sure Trump and others knew that the Syrians would be warned. But what giving the Russians an hour to evacuate did was give the Syrians even less than that to get their equipment and planes out of the area. Unless they had pilots sitting in the aircraft I doubt many made it out of the area. A pilot without a plane just got demoted to Infantry.

  5. Phillip

    On some other issues of global well-being and importance, the United States has recently seemed to cede the moral high ground (or it’s being seized from us) to China. From a strictly international law perspective, then, it’s intriguing to wonder how we (or other nations) would react if, for example, China decided to be the country that would bomb the Syrian airfield to send the message to Assad. Purely hypothetical of course, especially since China could not expend 60 Tomahawk-type missiles so easily.

    Nikki Haley insisted that Bolivia’s request for a Security Council special meeting be held in public, saying “Any country that chooses to defend the atrocities of the Syrian regime will have to do so in full public view, for all the world to hear…” But what if Bolivia’s point was not about defending the indefensible but rather questioning on what basis is one particular country believes itself empowered to be the responder. If Haley believes that the US has the right to unilaterally act (even when the end seems to be clearly justified), then surely nobody can object if it’s China next time, or Brazil, or Japan, or India. Maybe we can take turns?

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Phillip, I always find such “what-ifs” to be rather pointless.

      There’s only one nation in the world that emerged from 1945, and from the end of the Cold War, as the leader of collective security arrangements and chief defender of principles that liberal democracies adhere to — such as bans on the use of chemical weapons.

      It’s not China, thank God, nor Brazil, nor India, nor Japan, nor Ecuador.

      It’s the United States. You know, the World’s Policeman. People often use that term pejoratively, but for good or ill, it doesn’t occur to anyone to call any other nation that. And that’s a very good thing.

      As we’ve seen, of course, whenever the U.S. backs away from being the beat cop in the world, there are other entities eager to take its place. So far, that’s just been Russia in such places as Syria, but China has started to do the same in the South China Sea — and if this proves to be the Chinese Century (thanks to America pulling back into an “America First” posture), we’ll see it doing so around the world. While China does not yet have the ability to project military power so far, it has for decades been exerted its influence rather aggressively in other areas across the globe.

      Unfortunately, other liberal democracies show no interest in taking our place as the cop. They’ve been quite content to live under the American security umbrella.

      Are you asking whether I’d be alarmed if China did what Trump did last night? Absolutely. And there’s nothing ironic or narrow-minded about that. I truly believe that someone will fill any vacuum we leave if we reject our global role, and I don’t think anyone who cares about liberal values would want it to be the countries most likely to raise their hands when the time comes.

      I’m sorry if any of you think that that’s some sort of narrow-minded chauvinism on my part, but frankly I think mine is a sober, impartial, internationalist view informed only by liberal values. Yep, those tend to be Western values, but I can’t help that.

      And yeah, I agree with you that the United States should lead on protecting the planet from problems associated with climate change. We should lead across the board to build a better future for the whole planet.

      But for that to be possible, we do have to continue a state of affairs that seems to bug my liberal and libertarian friends no end — yes, we should spend many times what any other nation spends on military materiel and readiness, to the point that it is completely beyond any other nation’s ability to dream of competing — because the ones who WOULD dream of it are the sorts who would bring nightmares. The whole world is safer this way.

      All of which is NOT to say I feel great about Trump’s action. I’m uncomfortable precisely because unlike every president we’ve had in my lifetime, Trump does not but into the values I’m talking about here. Or he has not up until now. And that worries me. And I’m far from being the only person unhappy to see him holding so much power. And I won’t feel safe until that power is back in trustworthy hands….

  6. Richard

    With Russia and Syria stating that only 23 of 59 missiles hit their targets, I say we send another 59 over tonight to see if we can do better in Round 2.

    1. bud

      This is typical. People who wouldn’t spend a penny to help heat some crippled old woman’s home will eagerly squander $150 million to take out $100K in meaningless Syrian assets.

  7. Richard

    Lindsey Graham wants to put 7,000 troops on the ground in Syria. I say let’s make it 7,001 with Lindsey at the tip of the spear. If he’s such a warrior, let’s see if it more than just talk. My money is him crying and refusing to get off the plane.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I think he’s probably been in more combat zones than you or I have.

      He did his service, until just a year or so ago. And no, he wasn’t a “tip of the spear” guy — just as most people in uniform are not. But he did his job as a JAG officer.

      And as far as I’m concerned, serving in uniform and doing the duty you’re called upon to do is enough, and I honor him for it.

      Of course, it wasn’t enough for James Smith — after 9/11 he asked to be moved from JAG to the infantry. They told him he couldn’t just transfer over; he’d have to resign his commission and enlist and go through basic training. Which he did, starting over as a private in his late 30s. He later worked his way back up to his former rank.

      But James Smith is unusual, an above-and-beyond kind of guy…

      1. bud

        I thing Brad is entirely too charitable toward Lindsey’s military service. If it clucks like a chicken hawk it probably is one.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Sometimes I think y’all use that “chicken hawk” thing just to tick me off. It’s so grossly offensive, intellectually and otherwise.

          For the record, I — who never had the opportunity to serve — as a citizen of this country get to have just as much say about how or whether we use our armed services as anyone else.

          Does a person who DID have the opportunity to serve and did so have more “room to talk” on some grand moral scale? Yes, I think so. And if you’d like to change the laws of the country so that only veterans get to vote (see Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein), you might persuade me to go along with you — but only if you change the requirements for service so that I — who could easily have contributed in spite of chronic asthma — and others like me would be ALLOWED to serve.

          But until then, I get as much say as anybody.

          That’s me, and others like me who would have loved to serve had we the chance.

          But you REALLY take it to extremes when you fling your “chicken hawk” garbage at people who DID serve. Or are you going to say that only people who have experienced combat and received a Purple Heart get to have a say?

          Mind you, you’re talking about the most sacred of American rights — freedom of expression. And you’re saying some people should get it, and others should not.

          If you say that, then most folks here on the blog need to shut up, and I don’t want to see you voting in the next election, either…

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            If we’re going to start limiting who has basic rights of an American citizen, I think the very first people who should lose such rights is those who so easily ascribe nefarious or contemptible motives to other citizens.

            “Chicken hawk” — a label that argues for bringing back dueling, because no man should be able to so thoughtlessly besmirch another’s honor without being willing to fight for it — is just one particularly egregious form of it. A milder form is when someone says, “People who say X are the same people who say Y…” when that is far from demonstrable. (It only works if the world actually IS divided into two kinds of people, with every member of each of the two groups agreeing with each other about everything. Which is what partisans seem to think, but they couldn’t be more wrong. I know this because, to offer just one small example, I have been forced to hear the lie that “Pro-life people only care about the child until he or she is born” far, far too many times.)

            A basic, fundamental rule of civil discourse requires that before anything else, we accept that don’t have the right to try to disqualify others by inventing motives, particularly insulting ones, for the people who disagree with us…

            1. Claus2

              “A basic, fundamental rule of civil discourse requires that before anything else, we accept that don’t have the right to try to disqualify others by inventing motives, particularly insulting ones, for the people who disagree with us…”

              I guess you don’t go by the Ron White debating strategy.

          2. Claus2

            A JAG officer isn’t exactly someone who should be dictating whether or not putting boots on the ground. They should be more worried about prosecuting and defending DUI on base cases.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Actually, if that JAG officer is an elected member of Congress, he IS exactly “who should be dictating whether or not putting boots on the ground.” And the same is true if he or she never served as a JAG or any other kind of officer, or in the enlisted ranks, either.

              That’s the way a representative democracy that believes the armed services should be subject to the civilian government is supposed to work.

              And as I said earlier, if you want to switch to a radically different system such as that sketched out in Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, then let’s talk about that. But make sure you let everybody who wants to serve do so — something we do NOT do now…

              1. Claus2

                I’ll take the advice of someone who’s actually been to war to make those decisions vs. the military plan of someone who only read about it.

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  You are free to do that. Just as you are free to express your opinion without seeking any sort of expert advice — as you and others did in electing Trump.

                  That’s America…

                2. Richard

                  Nobody would ever mistake Ike for Lindsey Graham. The sad thing is Lindsey Graham is going to end up being the next Strom Thurmond, nobody will run against him and he’ll be there until he’s 102 and working from a SC nursing home.

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    Actually, no. Tim Scott is more in the mold of Strom. Think about it: What’s the last national issue Tim Scott was at the center of? I can’t think of one.

                    And THAT is what Strom’s longevity was about.

                    Actually, the member of Congress who’s most like Strom today is probably Joe Wilson. Joe inherited Floyd Spence’s seat, and no one was ever more like Strom than Floyd.

                    Here’s the formula for longevity like Strom’s:

                    Don’t do anything. Don’t take any stands, especially controversial ones. Stay out of the news. Vote reliably and predictably according to the party line. Stand up for national defense. Give great constituent service. In fact, you should consider constituent service — and not legislating — to be your primary purpose. Track down people’s Social Security checks and get them passes to tour the Capitol, and you’re set for life.

                    Mind you, Strom was WAY controversial early on. But I’m talking about the formula that he hit on late in life. I can only think of one thing he was involved in that affected our lives in the years I was responsible for covering him — those warning labels on alcohol bottles.

                    Floyd followed exactly the same pattern. And Joe has followed him.

                    I was taken aback when I read Cindi Scoppe’s column today about reapportionment, in which she wrote:

                    I don’t expect our Republican legislators to go along with his idea — even though the first I ever heard of a redistricting commission was when Mr. Republican, then-state Sen. and now-U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, was pushing it; it was a good idea then, and it’s a good idea now. In addition to eroding Republican legislators’ partisan advantage, a commission would deprive legislators of both parties of the ability to draw their own districts. That is, it would deprive them of the ability to flip the entire theory of representative democracy on its head by personally picking their own voters.

                    I saw that, and my reaction was, “WHAT?!? Joe Wilson putting forth an IDEA!?!?”

                    Not something you see these days…

              2. Bob Amundson

                Brad, just an interesting aside (of which I am sure you are aware). The US Navy has unrestricted line officers, restricted line officers and staff corps officers. JAGS in the US Navy are staff corps officers and not eligible for operational command positions. The US Army does not make that distinction, but I wonder if Army JAGS can staff operation command positions.

          3. Bryan Caskey

            It’s dumb. It’s like the argument that men shouldn’t be permitted to have an opinion on abortion, since men aren’t biologically capable of having babies.

            Should we:

            1. Limit opinions on taxes to only those who pay taxes?
            2. Limit opinions on guns to only gun-owners?
            3. Limit opinions on gay rights to only gay people?
            4. Limit opinions on school issues to only people who currently have school-age children?
            5. Limit opinions on whether the DH should apply to only pitchers?

            1. bud

              Bryan you and Brad are going waaay out of your way to miss the point. It’s a tautology than all Americans can express their opinion about anything. Not sure where Brad gets off on this rant that I support some dictate that says otherwise. Where I lose respect with people like the vile Dick Cheney is that he utilized every possible means possible to avoid serving in a war that he supported. And then he launches into a campaign of distortions and lies to put other young men in harms way. That doesn’t mean he’s not entitled to an opinion but it definitely does earn him the label chicken hawk. Trump also used 5 or 6 deferments. No one in his family served. So the more he pushes for unwarranted acts of war the more he earns the title chicken hawk in chief.

              1. Bryan Caskey

                I’ll be glad when all the baby boomers age out of running for President so the whole issue of Vietnam service (or lack thereof) will no longer be an issue.

                1. Richard

                  Yeah because Millennials will be so much better. Can they bring their parents to live with them at the White House?

                2. Richard

                  Bryan that’s my generation as well… I don’t hold out much hope for this generation either. We already had Obama which was close enough.

  8. bud

    The very worst of the clucking chicken hawk jerks was Dick Cheney. Trump has a chance to out click him but it’s a pretty high bar. With the failed Yemen operation and now this expensive non action Trump is off to a pretty ignominious start.

  9. bud

    And what gives this sanctamonious p**** Lindsey Graghm the idea that somehow Trump has the instincts of Reagan and is all presidential because he orders a missile strike. My skin just crawls every time I see this little weasel gushing about another act of war mongering. Seriously folks let’s vote him out!

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I think you’re going to have trouble getting a lot of support for that at the moment, since Schumer and Pelosi were ALSO applauding the strike on Syria…

      1. bud

        They are wrong too. What is it about acts of war that cause people to temporarily lose their minds? The punditry is likewise standing in unity with POTUS. Does everyone think Assad is somehow going to become a great humanitarian because of a zero impact missile attack? Slowly but surely we’re getting sucked back in to the quagmire. And the nation cheer it on just like they did a century ago.

        1. Bart

          bud, to a point, I agree with you especially about being sucked back into another military excursion into the ME. As for the missile attack, it was more of a warning, a shot across the bow for China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran. A message that Trump does not play the same diplomatic game Obama played. It will either work or backfire, time will tell.

          Firing missiles at a base where the planes delivering the gas but warning the Russians beforehand was a chess move and you are a chess master from what I know about you and the screen shot you chose for posting here. So, look at it as a chess move and hope it will result in placing the queen for the countries mentioned in a precarious situation that favors the United States and the world in general who do object to the use of chemical weapons against civilians.

          What bothers me is the White House is now accusing Russia of being complicit with Syria in the use of chemical warfare and without positive proof. Accusations are not to be taken lightly in the diplomatic arena of international politics and Trump’s tendency to shoot first and aim later can be a very dangerous shortcoming. The fallout from the accusations will have consequences, no doubt about it. It could bring even more instability to the region if that is possible.

          1. bud

            I did play chess but I wasn’t very good.

            Sure this was a message and hopefully it will work. But frankly if you want to send a message see Western Union. Flippancy aside the message was expensive for us but pretty minimal for Assad. I just wonder why we can’t establish a safe zone for the civilians especially for children. That’s a military operation I could support.

                1. Bart

                  Yep, tried that look myself. You should see the photo of my son and me when he was a toddler. Had the hair like yours and a Fu-Man Chu moustache. One went with the other when we lived in Virginia. Never could grow a decent beard though.

                  I think being president of the high school chess club pretty well qualifies you as something of a master or at the very least, close to it.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        I was a little surprised that that was news. Is it all that unusual to use one?

        Weren’t the early version, the Daisycutter, used fairly frequently in Vietnam? Maybe not, but I had thought so…

        1. Richard

          Daisycutter is 15,000 pounds. This one is slightly larger. Several have been dropped in Afghanistan, early on the British at first thought the US went nuclear because of the mushroom cloud. They’re “breathtaking”.

    1. Richard

      The Russians have the FOAB, it’s 80,000 pounds. I bet they’re itching to use one of those.

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