After the Tomahawks Fly

Jewish Light Editorial


resident Donald Trump was fully justified in ordering an attack on a Syrian air base that was used to drop deadly sarin gas on innocent men, women and children. We hope that the president will build upon this widely acclaimed action to forge a truly coherent foreign policy.

Before sending 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles from two warships in the Mediterranean on Thursday, Trump spoke of his horror and revulsion at the images of victims of the chemical attack launched by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad on his own people.

Despite his earlier “America First” platform of nonintervention, the president was moved to act by viewing what sources told The Washington Post were two images in particular: “young, listless children being splashed with water in a frantic attempt to cleanse them of the nerve agent; and an anguished father holding his twin babies, swathed in white fabric, poisoned to death.”


Those who applauded Trump for his decisive action said it contrasted sharply with what they considered to be empty rhetoric from the past, particularly the “red line” that was declared by President Barack Obama in 2013. After it was crossed, there were no consequences from the United States against Syria and Assad.

Walter Russell Mead, a foreign policy analyst with the conservative Hudson Institute, put it this way in an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal:

“President Trump faced his first foreign policy test this week. To the surprise and perhaps the frustration of his critics, he passed with flying colors.”

After the initial acclaim, though, some facts emerged that tempered the view of the mission. First, Trump apparently told the Russians about the impending attack before informing Congress. Second, it’s hard to tell whether that advance notice reduced the impact of the missiles, but the airfield where the strikes took place reportedly was back in business just a day later, giving Assad the means to launch continued war against his people.

The Tomahawk missiles carried a strong message to Assad. Now, the Trump administration has to back up that message with a coordinated, coherent foreign policy that addresses not only Syria and Russia but other nations that might still be unclear about the White House’s willingness to become involved in world affairs.

Perhaps this episode will give Trump a basis for ending his unrealistic positive assessment with Vladimir Putin. Like other Russian and Soviet leaders before him going back to the days of Stalin and the czars, Putin is interested only in advancing Russian interests by any means necessary. It is a time for the Trump team to adopt a more realistic posture toward the dictator in Moscow as well as coming clean about what influence Russia may have had in the election and in the early days of the Trump administration.

It is also essential that the administration speak with one clear, unequivocal voice on foreign affairs and that it give Congress its proper consultation role.  

Just a fortnight ago, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was saying that defeating ISIS was the major U.S. concern in the Middle East. He even went to far as to say that whether Assad stays in power is “up to the Syrian people.” Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has spoken much more clearly that there could be no political solution to the Syrian civil war in which Bashar Assad stays in power.

If Trump wants to send a clear message, both at home and throughout the rest of the world, he must follow through on the initial praise he gained from the attacks on Syria. More military challenges are certain to present themselves, from all corners of the globe. The White House has to develop a comprehensive, unified policy to deal with them and let everyone know what to expect.