This article was originally published on Medium.
Pres. Trump waited only three days before launching his attack on the Syrian airfield from which he believed a chemical weapons attack was launched. Particularly in the nuclear age, such rash behavior has serious, negative consequences for our national security that have been largely overlooked.
The mainstream media and most members of Congress treat the president’s belief that Assad was responsible as an established fact. A New York Times Editorial written just one day after the chemical weapons attack was headlined “A New Level of Depravity From Mr. Assad.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tweeted, “I support both the action and objective of @POTUS’ strike against Syria to deter the Assad regime from using chemical weapons again.”
This rush to judgment is reminiscent of 1964‘s drumbeat to war in Vietnam and 2003’s in Iraq, both of which had disastrous consequences for our nation. Both were also later found to be based on false assumptions that had been accepted as unquestionable facts by most of the media and Congress.
Questions have been raised about the evidence presented by the administration, which will take time to assess. It did not make sense for Assad to launch a chemical weapons attack on civilians when he was gaining the upper hand militarily in Syria’s civil war. Such an attack was one of the few events that could cause the US to attack him, giving the rebels a motivation to possibly launch a false flag chemical weapons attack.
Theodore Postol, an MIT professor who previously had served as a scientific advisor to the Chief of Naval Operations, wrote a preliminary assessment which noted that one of the pictures used as evidence to prove that an airborne chemical weapons attack had taken place showed that the supposed bomb had been detonated by forces on the ground, not from the air.
It may turn out that Pres. Trump was right in his assessment, but there is also a chance that he attacked Syria on a false belief, killing people in the process. Congress should initiate an unbiased, bipartisan investigation to determine the facts, whichever way they lead.
Even if that investigation determines that Assad was responsible for the attack, Congress needs to consider other implications of the president’s behavior. Every time we attack another nation, we unwittingly encourage nuclear proliferation. Soon after Pres. Trump’s attack on Syria, North Korea put out a press release that stated, “Today’s reality proves that we should confront strength only with strength and that our choice was absolutely right in extraordinarily strengthening our nuclear armed forces.”
North Korea’s mistrust of the US is heightened because they feel we double crossed Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi. In 2003, when Gaddafi gave up his nuclear weapons program, President Bush promised that his “good faith will be returned,” and asked other nations to find an example in Libya’s move. When the United States attacked Libya eight years later, resulting in Gaddafi’s brutal murder, North Korea released a statement which showed that they had learned a lesson from Libya, but not the one President Bush had intended. The North Koreans saw us as coaxing Libya “with such sweet words as guarantee of security” so that it dismantled its nuclear weapons program, after which we “swallowed it up by force.”
While Iran has been quieter, Pres. Trump’s attack on Syria strengthens the hands of Iranian hardliners who argue that the US cannot be trusted and only a nuclear deterrent will make Iran safe from the kind of American attacks suffered by Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi, and Assad. Iran sees it as ironic that the US takes such strong action against a chemical weapons attack when the Reagan administration helped Saddam Hussein in his war with Iran even after it knew that Saddam was using chemical weapons against Iran.
A Congressional investigation should consider the impact of the above facts on American national security as well as dealing with the fundamental question of whether Assad was responsible for this chemical weapons attack. Acting out of anger has always been dangerous, and the nuclear age adds an ominous new dimension to rash behavior.