April 6, 2017: President Trump entertains Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, while the US launched airstrikes in Syria.


The Syria Bombing in Context

Kevin Carnahan
Philosophy and Religion, Central Methodist University

13 April 2017

As a Christian Realist, I do not support or oppose military action in the abstract. Rather, I hold that all deployments of force need to be assessed in their own context, considering the brokenness of the world, the failings of all involved, and the hope that is offered to us in every new moment.

So what are we to say about America’s incursion in Syria?


In my view, the primary problem is NOT that the United States has commenced military strikes in Syria. It’s helpful to remember that in 2013 Barack Obama threatened military action against Syria in the case of the use of chemical weapons. On Syria, Hillary Clinton was more bellicose than Trump during the election. She supported the creation of a no-fly zone which would’ve included military strikes to destroy air bases in Syria. So at this point we were likely to be militarily more involved with Syria regardless of who won the election. The potential need for military action is Syria has thus been widely recognized across American politics.

Yet, when Assad acted, Trump struck against him with astonishing speed. Within three days, The United States was bombing Syria.

There is no sign that this military action was linked to any long-term serious strategy or diplomatic push concerning Syria. Trump himself spoke of his change of will as an emotional reaction upon seeing the images of children suffering from the attack. A strong negative reaction to these images is entirely proper, but rage is no substitute for stable policy

Developing strategy and diplomatic pressure requires time and patience. Without a stable policy the Trump administration’s military strike in Syria is AT BEST part of a strategic “madman” approach to foreign policy in which the head of state attempts to appear erratic and irrational enough that opponents limit their actions because they are unsure what reaction the head of state is capable of.  AT WORST it is the expression of a true madness at the core of the Trump administration. Trump tried to make friends with Assad on the international playground, and when Assad turned on him, Trump decided to break Assad’s toy.

Neither of these options is desirable or constructive. However, one can hope that US military action will return us to the status quo established under the Obama administration concerning the use of chemical weapons in Syria. And over the longer term one can hope that this is the beginning of a more adequate foreign policy from the Trump administration.

I’m not going to hold my breath on that last one; miracles are rare in politics.

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