Syriasly? Again?

My favorite cartoon about pro-Israel politics is even more relevant on Pesach. We'll ask the eternal questions at our seders this evening, but for now, let's focus on some questions of the day:

What should we do about Syria? The entire world is either complicit or participating in terrible mass murder in Syria. Last week, Syria used chemical weapons. Yet President Donald Trump wants to make it even harder for Syrian refugees to enter America. Do you wonder why America turned away Jewish refugees during the Shoah? Look in the White House. Look in the mirror.

What we can do that won't make matters worse in Syria? Presumably, the inability to answer that question is why President Barack Obama did not take military action to stop the killing. I understand why President Obama did not take military action following Assad's use of chemical weapons in 2013, and I think it was the right decision, but if I could ask President Obama one question, I'd ask why we we were so powerless to stop this mass murder, which could almost be another chapter of Samantha Power's A Problem From Hell.

Trump's policy on Syria can best be described as incoherent. As Politico reported

In the span of one week, President Donald Trump and his team have pirouetted from declaring that Syria's murderous dictator could stay in power to launching airstrikes against his regime--and possibly committing the United States to a new military conflict whose scope and scale are unknown.

It's a dizzying turnabout for a man who complained endlessly during the presidential campaign about the trillions the United States had wasted on wars in the Middle East--and who urged his predecessor in 2013 not to launch "stupid" airstrikes to punish Bashar Assad for using chemical weapons against his own people.

But Trump said Thursday that Assad's use of chemical weapons "crossed many, many lines." In 2013, Trump could not have been clearer that he opposed a U.S. attack on Syria, but on Thursday night, Trump ordered a missile attack on a Syrian air base. Will that stop the murder or Assad's use of chemical weapons? Too early to tell. But if Trump can make matters better, he deserves all the credit. Before you read anything else, you owe it to yourself to understand the Trump administration's rationale for this action in its own words, so read these remarks from Secretary of State Tillerson and National Security Advisor McMaster carefully.

Trump's response seems to have been based on his emotional reaction to seeing the pictures of Syrian victims of the gas attacks. This is the danger of Trump and his appeal. My first reaction when I heard that Trump had ordered a missile strike was "Good -- it's about time we did something about this." But what did the missile strike accomplish, other than making us feel good for a few minutes? David Frum lists seven lessons from Trump's attack and writes that

What Trump has done is the kind of military action famously derided by George W. Bush as firing a $2 million missile into a $10 tent and hitting a camel in the butt. Trump's strike was symbolic and demonstrative, not decisive. It signaled, but did not compel. It leaves the Syrian and Russian leadership an array of options about how to respond--and it may well have committed the United States to potential next steps that the president did not imagine and does not intend.

The situation in Syria is horrible and unacceptable regardless of whether Assad uses chemical weapons. If this missile strike discourages Assad from using chemical weapons again, then that's good. I don't object to Thursday's missile strike, but I wonder what it accomplished and what it will lead to. It says something about Trump that his emotional response was not to let more Syrian refugees into the U.S., which probably is the way we could save the most people, but to take military action.

So whose fault is it that Syria now has chemical weapons? Daryll Kimball of the Arms Control Association says, "We have to put blame where blame belongs, which is not with the agreement that got 1,300 tons of chemical weapons out of Syria. It's with the Kremlin, which failed to enforce that agreement with its client government." Secretary Tillerson agrees.

Colin Kahl tweeted that the "2013 US-Russ Syria [chemical weapons] deal got rid of most but clearly not all of Assad's stockpile. Mil strikes would not have destroyed them either. Whether strikes in 2013 would have deterred future [chemical weapons]  use & driven Assad to the table or just led Russia to double down in supporting Assad in the face of US strikes w/no UN mandate is open to debate."

What is Trump's record on Israel and Jewish issues so far? Check out the scorecard. Trump has served less than 100 days (even though it feels like four years), but just for comparison, remind yourself of President Barack Obama's record on Israel after his first year.

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