Trump should be fighting ISIS, not Syria

(CNN)What’s the White House’s next move when it comes to Syria? Let’s hope nothing.

President Donald Trump’s salvo of cruise missiles against a military airfield in Syria last week brought bipartisan acclaim, and that’s a major cause for concern.
In a partisan age, the American media likes to report on any seemingly bipartisan agreement, and has an interest in subtly cheering any US military campaign, despite its size or scope, because it almost always leads to increased ratings. Yet in their fervor, sometimes the media, Democrats and Republicans can all be wrong simultaneously.
    Retired Col. Andrew Bacevich has written cogently about just how militaristic American culture has become, much to the detriment of the US military itself. And this militarism, when it is taken up by politicians and the American public — in contrast to the anti-militaristic patriotism of the nation’s founders — regularly sends US military personnel into harm’s way for less than optimal reasons.

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    Trump’s cruise missile attack on the Syrian air base may not have resulted in any American military casualties, but the action could very well result in Syrians or Russians taking surreptitious retaliatory measures against US forces on the ground in Syria — or to secret attempts to shoot down American aircraft.
    Any of these actions could significantly enmesh the US military in the brutal Syrian civil war, possibly involve the United States in an escalating conflict with nuclear-armed Russia, and impede what should be the main objective: the fight against the terror group ISIS.
    Not even during the Korean or Vietnam Wars did Russia and the United States overtly have their forces on the same battlefield, as they do now in Syria. Is greater US involvement in Syria — a non-strategic country for the United States but one of Russia’s few allies — worth escalation with the only country that has ever posed an existential threat to the United States?
    What if the US strike doesn’t deter Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad from using chemical weapons on his people in the future? Syrian bombing raids on the same town have already taken place from the attacked airfield, an in-your-face response to the US strike, showing that it didn’t take out the airstrip and thus our action was only a symbolic pinprick.

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    If history is any guide — and it almost always is — direct US military action often leads to stronger military action in the future. For example, shortly after he took office in 1981, Ronald Reagan began using the US military to provoke Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was then commissioning sporadic terror attacks on Europe.
    After a series of tit-for-tat terror attacks, now against US targets, and US military responses over the years, Gadhafi blew up flight Pan Am 103 in late 1988, killing 270 people, including 189 Americans.
    Once the United States takes direct military action, the American foreign policy elites in Washington will declare that the country’s “credibility” as a superpower (read: world’s policeman) is on the line the next time a bad event takes place — and this pressure often leads to further US escalation and entanglement.
    During his campaign, Trump vowed to stay out of such possible foreign quagmires, yet with the only experienced people on foreign policy in his administration being generals, the old clich “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” is nevertheless applicable.

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    And why was the killing of roughly 80 people with a chemical weapon dramatically worse than the deaths of 500,000 Syrians in the bloody civil war, the vast majority of whom died by incendiary barrel bombs containing shrapnel or by conventional bullets and artillery shells? Even in cataclysmic World War I, infamous for its poison gas attacks, deaths by chemical weapons only accounted for a tiny percentage of all fatalities. Similarly, in Syria, chemical weapons have accounted for only a fraction of the total deaths.
    Trump’s theatrical cruise missile attack is really only a satisfying palliative for the American people. He wants the public to think that the United States has finally “done something” about the evil Assad’s use of chemical weapons, thereby making him seem tougher than his milquetoast predecessor. However, that perception is simply a dangerous illusion — something Trump is rapidly becoming a specialist in creating.
    Trump should stop now with the counterproductive showmanship and get back to the grinding fight against ISIS.

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