President Donald Trump's decision to attack Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime via U.S.-led airstrikes was not enough for Washington's war hawks, many of whom are now calling for further action and deeper Western military involvement in a seven-year civil war.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Trump's strikes were a "missed opportunity," and a "major step backwards."
"Didn’t lay a glove on Assad’s capabilities to wage war. We’re becoming the chemical weapons police. We don’t have a strategy about why Syria matters. It seems like we’re willing to give to the Russians and the Iranians without much of a contest. The ISIS people heard we’re leaving," Graham told conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt on Monday. "The Kurds are in a world of hurt, because they’re very much exposed. And the military strike itself was a tactical response well short of what I thought was justified. So he’s been a good commander-in-chief in general, but this is a major step backwards."
But while Trump touted the "perfectly executed" strikes and described them as a "mission accomplished," there seems to be no sort of broader strategy in Syria, a country the president said he wanted to withdraw U.S. forces from earlier this month.
Trump has provided no evidence that his decision to launch additional strikes against Syria was anything more than ceremonial. Yet perhaps that's why people like Graham, and others whispering in the president's ear, are so dangerous.
A new report in the Wall Street Journal revealed that Trump bowed to advice from top Pentagon officials and "agreed on one of the most restrained of the military-strike options crafted by the Pentagon: a powerful missile attack aimed at three targets meant to hobble the Syrian regime’s ability to use chemical weapons and deter President Bashar Assad from using them again."
When the Pentagon is the voice of militaristic reason, rationale and restraint, it truly becomes difficult to overstate just how short-sighted and hawkish the Trump administration truly is.
The report continued: "While Mr. Trump pressed his team to also consider strikes on Russian and Iranian targets in Syria if necessary to get at the Assad regime’s military equipment, [Defense Secretary] Mr. Mattis pushed back, those familiar with the decision-making said."
UN Ambassador Nikki Haley also echoed Trump's calls for a "more forceful response," but Mattis was opposed to it, and warned of the possibility that a "more expansive strike" would have provoked a military response from Iran and Russia. The expansive proposal, "which might have included strikes on Russian air defenses" was three times larger than the strikes that were ultimately conducted by the U.S., Britain and France, the Journal reported.
Among the leading voices was Trump's extremely hawkish new National Security Adviser John Bolton, who "pressed for what he considered a 'ruinous' strike that would deliver a concrete blow to some part of Mr. Assad’s regime," according to the Journal. Surprisingly, Bolton did not vouch for the most aggressive military option.
But there wasn't too much holding Bolton back, besides the optics, considering he started the job just last week after facing heavy public scrutiny for his infamous bloodlust.
The WSJ elaborated:
Mr. Bolton also realized that the most robust option might drag the U.S. more deeply into the conflict and force him to take responsibility for a greater U.S. role in the civil war, according to the people familiar with the decision-making. He felt that was too much for his first week on the job, they said.
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., told Salon last week that a "comprehensive" plan by the Trump administration was needed. She slammed the idea of strikes against Syria and demanded that Congress finally stand up to presidential administrations that have bypassed lawmakers for nearly two decades in order to continue "this state of perpetual war."
Lee, who is against deeper U.S. military involvement in Syria, explained that a "one-off" strike against Assad's regime would "not do anything to address the issue of chemical weapons."