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What Trump Did and Did Not Achieve In Syria

Updated on April 11, 2017

Thursday night (early Friday morning, local time) U.S. President Trump ordered a missile strike on a Syrian airbase. Using nearly sixty cruise missiles, the attack is believed to have significantly impaired the combat efficacy of the Shayrat Air Base in Western Syria. The base is one of the primary facilities used by the Russia Air Force as a distribution hub for Russian supplies to Syrian government forces. It is also believed to be where Syria launched it's deadly chemical attack that killed more than 80 civilians on Tuesday.

The strike has been received with mixed response, with some praising it and others condemning it. Regardless of public opinion, the strike has achieved several things, but has also created several setbacks.


Trump appears Thursday night at a press conference, announcing the strike, at Mar-a-Lago in Florida.
Trump appears Thursday night at a press conference, announcing the strike, at Mar-a-Lago in Florida.

1. He's Changed Opinions...

The most immediate outcome of the US strike was an outpouring of responses from politicians and governments across the world. Several US allies released statements shortly after the action was announced, including Israel, Australia, and the United Kingdom, along with Germany and France, who have been mostly at odds with the new US president thus far. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also backed Trump stating that "Canada fully supports the United States’ limited, focused action."

In a joint press release Germany's Angela Merkel and France's Francis Hollande stated that “President Assad alone bears responsibility for this development" signaling support for the "limited and targeted" strike, without explicitly condoning it. NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg said that "Any use of chemical weapons is unacceptable...those responsible must be held accountable." with EU President Donald Tusk stating "US strikes show needed resolve."

Countries Who've Voiced Support, Opposition to US Strike

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...and Positions.

Despite the outpouring of reassurances from a majority of the world powers, not everyone is happy with the decision to directly attack the Syrian government. Trump's core populist demographic does not approve, believing that his campaign promise to end US forces from policing the world was hollow. Trump's foreign equivalents such as French Presidential candidate Marie Le Pen and UK Brexit advocate Nigel Farage have also voiced concerns, with Le Pen saying on French television that the US should "wait for the results of an independent international investigation" and Farage calling Assad's regime "secular."

At home, Trump's decision was met with mixed reactions as well, with some Congressional members standing behind the president, and others strongly criticizing the action. Hard-line conservatives and libertarians such as Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Senator Rand Paul (R–KY), both of whom ran against Trump in the Republican primaries, have denounced the move as unconstitutional. Far left Democrats have shared this sentiment. Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D–HI), who supported Bernie Sanders for President, called the strike "shortsighted" while Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has called upon Trump to release a detailed Syria plan.

This could prove two sided however: while both the far right and far left have questioned the President's action, moderates from both sides have shown support. Sen. Jon McCain (R-AZ), a long time Trump critic, praised the strike stating "President Trump confronted a pivotal moment in Syria and took action." Both House Speaker Paul Ryan (R–WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who previously opposed similar action being considered by the Obama administration, have also voiced support as have several prominent Democrats including Nancy Pelosi (D–CA) and Chuck Schumer (D–NY).

Even Trump's presidential opponent Hillary Clinton seemed to be in support of similar action when during an interview the day of the strike she stated the US should focus on destroying Syria's air power.

"I really believe that we should...take out [Assad's] airfields and prevent him from being able to use them to bomb innocent people and drop sarin gas on them."

— Hillary Clinton, at an interview hours before the missile strike was announced

Trump's Press Conference Thursday

Trump himself seems to have done a one-eighty on the issue. While on the campaign trail he stated he would end US support of Syrian rebels and work solely to destroy ISIS, he appeared moved after the chemical attack upon Syrian civilians on Tuesday saying at a press conference Thursday night that "No child of God should ever suffer such horror."

Regardless of the domestic response, the attack has shown traditional American allies that the Trump Administration is going to stand behind human rights and against dictators like Assad, a stance that was previously in question.

Presidents Xi Jinping of China and Donald Trump of the US on Friday.
Presidents Xi Jinping of China and Donald Trump of the US on Friday.

2. He Established Rapport...

Trump's decision to use military force against the Assad regime is a direct break from his predecessors strategy. The Obama administration debated, in great length, striking the Syrian government and ultimately decided not to without Congressional consent. Although Obama's legal team maintained their position that a unilateral strike would not violate the law, Mr. Obama sought to legitimize his actions in the eyes of Congress. In 2013, Democrats introduced a bill that would have allowed Obama to use American naval and air forces to attack Assad's troops. The bill, Authorization for Use of Military Force in Syria, died in committee, and Obama made no further efforts before Russian forces began backing Assad in 2015, further complicating US involvement.

Now, the Trump administration appears prepared to act, even by itself if necessary. Trump's timing of the strike alone is evidence that it was a political move as much as a military one. Just as the US President prepared to sit down with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping to begin a two day summit aimed at improving US-Chinese relations, he ordered the strike upon Syria, sending a strong and clear message to China and the world that he will deploy military resources when appropriate.

But most importantly Trump gave a sample of what his foreign policy will look like, and it does not include continuing the policy of "strategic patience" in Syria or anywhere else. In regards to Syria, the Trump doctrine appears to consist of limited, precise attacks and increasing non-military pressure while limiting ground troops. A more aggressive version of his predecessors strategy but falling well short of George Bush's Neoconservative foreign policy. While this strike unlikely means a "change in our policy or posture," according to Sec of State Rex Tillerson, the White House believes that Syria "should at the minimum agree to abide by the agreements they made not to use chemical weapons." Meanwhile the Treasury Department is working on a plan to increase sanctions against Assad.

Trump & counsel watch as the strike against the Syrian regime is conducted.
Trump & counsel watch as the strike against the Syrian regime is conducted.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, left, with Russian President Putin.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, left, with Russian President Putin.

...and Tone.

Immediately following the strike however Syrian allies condemned the action, with Russia calling it "an act of aggression" and Iran going as far as to claim "terrorists are celebrating." The Syrian government made similar statements, with all three nations painting the US as enabling ISIS by undermining the international effort against the terrorist organization.

Putin himself said that Trump's decision will further strain US-Russian relations, which had became increasingly strained over the past several years.

On the campaign trail Donald Trump repeatedly called for the US strengthen relations with Russia by finding common ground on issues like Syria. Following his victory in November, several damning revelations have been uncovered regarding team Trump's connections with Russian insiders.

It appears that Trump is now prepared to stand firmly against Russia, even if they may have helped him win, dispelling the idea that Putin has influence over Trump. Where before Trump liked the idea of improving the dialogue between Moscow and Washington, he's show he will instead assert US authority in a targeted and precise capacity.

3. He Called Russia's Bluff...

Russia has previously, on several occasions, warned against the US intervening in the Syrian civil war, stating that they would engage US aircraft attacking forces loyal to Assad. Obama had been presented several proposals by his cabinet to curb Assad's strength, most of which called for targeting his air capabilities to prevent further civilian causalities. Ultimately, he chose not to take action, fearing the political ramifications would be too great.

But despite the threats, Moscow has tried to delay action from the US for as long as possible, knowing full well US action puts them in a difficult position. Despite the overwhelming amount of Russian resources deployed across the Syrian conflict, including installing a comprehensive air-defense system across the country, Russia is still far behind the US in military capability. Thus far Putin has succeeded because of his unwillingness to back down in the face of Western opposition. When he annexed Crimea in 2014, the US and European allies responded by placing what they believed to be crippling economic and political sanctions on Russia in an effort to force them down. They didn't.

Now, in the face of increasing US activism, Putin and friends must decide if they will make good on his threats of engagement, or will be more willing to consider diplomacy to resolve the six year long civil war. Trump's actions also test Putin's loyalty to Assad, who has been seen as blindly defending the Syrian dictator, even in the face of sanctioned attacks on civilians.

Map showing location of Russian airstrikes earlier this year.
Map showing location of Russian airstrikes earlier this year.

...and Fell Into One Himself.

Russia's immediate reaction was to cut all further communication with American personnel in the region, increasing the risk of direct clash between American and Russia military, and to announce they would strengthen their air defense systems in Syria.

While the mainstream media has decried both Moscow and Washington over the appearance of increasing hostilities between the two superpowers, it remains highly unlikely that Russia would truly engage with US aircraft over the skies of Syria, or anywhere else. American military power is still decades ahead of Russian, and everyone else, in both size and technology. The spending capacity, and domestic political situation in the US (a GOP controlled White House and Congress) would also ensure that a rapid response would most certainly come in the face of actual Russian aggression towards US troops. The insurance policy of course comes with NATO, which would certainly engage Russia as a whole should they shoot-first at US planes or ships.

But Trump now has a choice to make. Even if Russians don't start shooting down US fighters, they may increase attacks on rebel groups, abandon the effort against ISIS, or refuse diplomacy momentarily. Putin will certainty push Trump to see how much action he is willing to take to remove Assad as he is aware the US must either remove Assad, an idea previously dismissed by Trump, or continue operating in a conservative manner, striking only in specific instances.

Map of NATO Members in Europe, with US troop presence in blue.
Map of NATO Members in Europe, with US troop presence in blue.

The Bottom Line

In the coming weeks, the Trump administrations foreign policy will most certainly continue to emerge. As the Pentagon considers their next move, the G7 meet to create a united policy on Syria, and the US Navy redeploys units to the Korean peninsula, Trump will face a series of decisions that will outlay the remainder of his presidency. In regards to Syria, this strike will either be very good, forcing Russia to the table, or very bad, escalating an already complicated situation. Regardless, Trump's decision to confront Assad shows the world that the time for waiting is over. The "civilized nations" of the world must now take action if we ever wish to see peace in Syria.

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    • johnmariow profile image

      John Gentile 6 weeks ago from Connecticut

      Excellent article.

      Russia has claimed that Syria bombed a rebel chemical weapons depot and that the bombs contained no chemicals. I don't believe this claim.

      However, concerns were expressed (in the media) about terrorists filtering into the rebel forces in Syria. I am concerned that it may have been an terrorist chemical weapons depot; Maybe even ISIS.

    • profile image

      Sanxuary 6 weeks ago

      This was an oppurtunity. He had to respond to the breach on the chemical weapons agreement, he needed to pretend he was not worshipping his buddy Putin and most of all he needed a worthy news story to stop the reporting on his investigation. It has worked for the last week.

    • bradmasterOCcal profile image

      bradmasterOCcal 6 weeks ago from Orange County California

      A well done detailed article.

      My question is what is your definition of a war, that engages the war powers act?

      The last time congress issued a Declaration of War was WWII.

      While we call the series of military actions that the US has engaged in since WWII, "Wars". don't we need a more accurate term.

      Some in the past called the Korean War and the Vietnam War, "Police Actions". In addition, if a "war" is authorized by the UN under International Law, but congress didn't declare it as a war, then what is it?

      This may have been a Trespass with property damage at best. And in the last several decades the US Constitution has been stretched like maternity pants on a big women. PC today seems to be the US Constitutions Rosetta Stone. For example, the 14th amendment was impotent until this century. It didn't give women or black men the right to vote. These rights to vote were given by the 19th and 15th amendments.

      My point is that the liberal justices of this century have contorted the constitution to fit their political goals.

      So, now we have a cry of unconstitutionality from politicians that just want to be embarrassing the president. As you stated, the democrats didn't think it was unconstitutional if Obama, a democrat did it.

      The bigger test is the mess that GW Bush and Barack Obama left with Iran and N Korea. This is no longer a time to bring back the political abyss of the country like it was during the Vietnam War. This is a time when Country and Americans come before politics. We the people need to have a United front to the rest of the world.

      Divide and conquer is worse than an unconstitutional issue, especially when it is a red herring political act in my opinion.

      And all this talk about Trump not being a professional politician as if that is a negative. Look at our history and you will see that the most nested pro politicians got us into the worse place. In 2008, an entire congress and a 2nd term president stood by like a deer in the headlights while the economy melted in front of them.

      Then two congresses couldn't really find a solution to bring the economy back. And they spent $1.5 trillion on making it look like they knew what they were doing. Not being a politician is what the people wanted and that is why he is president.

      BTW, he beat 18 professional politicians, and Hillary Clinton so not being a politician didn't work against him.

      The people in the US need to come together for Terrorism, Iran, and N Korea as if it was 911 on 2001.

    • johnmariow profile image

      John Gentile 6 weeks ago from Connecticut

      The airport bombing in Syria proved to by mostly symbolic. That airport was up and running 24 hours after it was bombed. With regard to achievements: The airport attack strained our relations with Russia to the point wherein Putin indicated he would be less cooperative with us regarding both nuclear weapons reduction and sharing intelligence regarding terrorists. Russia may also move missile launchers and missiles into Syria to protect the Assad regime.

      With regard to the War Powers Act mentioned by BradmasterOCcal, Past Presidents have considered the War Powers Act an infringement on the Presidential powers detailed in the US Constitution.

      BradmasterOCcal, Trump does not act Presidential. He has a careless tongue and mouths off too much. His comments and tweets could have a negative impact on everything he is trying to achieve; including his infrastructure bill and his efforts regarding free trade. Trump needs to treat the Republicans in Congress as part of the solution; Not part of the problem.

    • Ken Burgess profile image

      Ken Burgess 6 weeks ago from Florida

      We cannot know what the ultimate goal of this is yet, we have to see where it leads.

      I wrote a hub about our coming war with Russia, days before this bombing occurred (revised it the day after I believe to include this event at the end).

      This never was really about Syria, nor chemical weapons, anymore than our invasion into Iraq was about the threat of WMDs.

      'America' is trying to instigate a fight with Russia, or trying to bring about the demise of Putin in particular, so we can set up a 'banana republic' friendly to 'our' interests.

      Or both... first one, then the other.

    • bradmasterOCcal profile image

      bradmasterOCcal 5 weeks ago from Orange County California

      John, you missed the point on the war powers act. I explained it thoroughly in my comment.

      As far as the bombed airport is concerned, the real effect is whether Syria will continue chemical bombings.

      John your following comment are just sour grapes, and without merit or reference.

      1. Trump does not act Presidential.

      Brad -

      How should a president act? Remember, that the previous presidents for the last several decades allowed the US to decline, and culminating in the 2008 economic meltdown. In addition, we have been in wars since the end of WWII, and we lost all of them. It was the presidents and the professional politicians in congress that took any kind of military victory and turned it into a defeat. This applies to both parties, and the loyal party voters that has been the sheep of their party.

      2. He has a careless tongue and mouths off too much.

      Brad --

      Wow, once again look at the results of the other presidents.

      3. His comments and tweets could have a negative impact on everything he is trying to achieve;

      Brad --

      Could have??

      4. including his infrastructure bill and his efforts regarding free trade.

      Brad --

      It is the democrats and several republicans that have created a negative impact on the country. They just oppose anything and everything he does. And you think that the comments from Pelosi, Schiff, Feinstein, Schumer, John McCain, Maxine Waters, just to name a few are intelligent, and helpful for the country and Americans.

      5. Trump needs to treat the Republicans in Congress as part of the solution; Not part of the problem.

      Brad --

      The Republicans and the Democrats have been the problem since the 1970s, so how are they part of the solution. The republicans had 8 years to come up with a replacement for Obamacare and they failed. It was their healthcare plan that Trump was trying to pass, and the republicans just can't act as a single party. Take a look a John McCain. And the other Nested Retired on the Hill but still getting a paycheck didn't help the country or the American People. So based on what the Republicans have actually done in the last 40 years, they have proved themselves along with the democrats to be the root cause of the US decline. Fracturing the republican majority in congress is childish and proves my point that they are a major problem.

    • bradmasterOCcal profile image

      bradmasterOCcal 5 weeks ago from Orange County California

      Ken

      I usually agree with your opinion, but I am having a hard time with your statement.

      "'America' is trying to instigate a fight with Russia, or trying to bring about the demise of Putin in particular, so we can set up a 'banana republic' friendly to 'our' interests."

      Brad --

      1. Who in America is trying to instigate?

      2. Who in America is trying to end the Putin Russian Reign?

      3. What are our Interests in Syria?

    • Ken Burgess profile image

      Ken Burgess 5 weeks ago from Florida

      Brad I explained the bulk of the answer to those questions in the Hub Article I wrote... I see you replied there as well and I answered you.

      Don't take my observations as a 'this is wrong' or 'America is bad' viewpoint... I am merely stating the reasons why we are doing what we are doing.

      Like with this bombing of Syria for supposed chemical weapons use. This is a falsehood, a fabrication, Syria did not use chemical weapons... we used it as an acceptable excuse to bomb that airfield, to make a statement.

      What was that statement and why?

      It was a slap in the face against Russia, we were sending a message, just as our fleet heading to North Korea, and China's 150k troops amassing along the NK border and China saying it will not tolerate any attack by NK that includes nuclear weapons (defensive or offensive) is sending a message.

      Where things go from here, is what is to be determined... it would be nice if North Korea once and for all was removed from the map... its been an annoying nation whose existence has merely been for China to use to create international angst, without itself being the international 'bad guy' and giving China a role to play as a 'peacemaker' on the international stage.

      China no longer needs NK, it is a 'world power' now, it has the second largest economy, the second largest military, and has investments and relations across the globe... NK is now a liability to China, and therefore it is likely that NK is about to come to an end as a independent nation... it will likely be absorbed by South Korea much the way that East Germany was.

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