A bad week for a rogue
Donald Trump sends a flight of missiles with a message
Action speaks louder than red lines. Accepting the mantle of the leader of the free world, Donald Trump has just done what Barack Obama vowed to do, and never did. The sight of Syrian civilians massacred in a chemical weapons attack prompted President Trump to punish the Assad regime in the name of humanity. Next for a reckoning are Syria’s more formidable protectors, Russia and Iran, which have drawn their own red lines. Fresh to the world stage, the dealmaker has put unruly powers on notice that he is as likely to strike a target as a bargain.
Televised video showing the fatal poisoning of more than 100 civilians, 30 of them children, with sarin gas last week — almost certainly the work of Syrian President Bashar Assad — invited a quick response from the United States. Something should happen, was all Mr. Trump would say. A few hours later, the something was 59 cruise missiles, launched from U.S. warships in the Mediterranean. The missiles destroyed a Syrian air base.
It was a bold move, undertaken without permission from Lower Volta, Upper Slobbovia or anyone else at the United Nations. He explained why later: “Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children. It was a slow, brutal death for so many. No child of God should ever suffer such horror.”
The events exposed the myth that Barack Obama, making good on his promise to punish Assad if he crossed Mr. Obama’s “red line,” that Syria had made good on its promise to destroy its chemical weapon arsenal. Mr. Obama had warned Mr. Assad in 2012 that the use of poisonous gas would trigger U.S. military action. Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to handle the dirty work of disarmament — a task clearly not accomplished.
Decisive actions can trigger sudden consequences, and pieces are starting to move quickly across the global chessboard. Russia and Iran issued a joint statement over the weekend that what America waged in an aggression on Syria is a crossing of red lines. From now on Russia “would respond with force to any aggressor or any breach of red lines from whoever it is and America knows our ability to respond well.”
For good measure, Moscow even sent a warship steaming toward the U.S. destroyers that had fired the missiles. By happenstance, this is the week that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will visit Moscow. His discussions with Russian officials may be jarring as each side takes the other’s measure in the age of Trump.
Iran chortles that in attacking Assad’s forces, the United States has strengthened the cause of their enemies. “Not even two decades after 9/11, U.S. military is fighting on same side as al-Qaeda & ISIS in Yemen & Syria,” tweeted Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. It’s a given that friend and foe are shifting shapes in the hall of mirrors that is the Middle East. But unlike Mr. Obama, Mr. Trump did not give the Islamic regime’s mullahs the benefit of the doubt to preserve the 2015 deal delaying Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
Until such time as an unclouded crystal ball sits on the president’s desk, the guiding principle for leadership has to be a stand for humanity and against depravity. Mr. Trump is doing just that.