Just hours after it was announced that the Trump administration had struck back at Syria for a chemical attack that killed at least 40 civilians last week, Democrats began using the strike to score political points against the president.
“President Trump’s decision to launch airstrikes against the Syrian government without Congress’s approval is illegal and — absent a broader strategy — it’s reckless,” said Virginia Democrat Sen. Tim Kaine.
Kaine’s reaction was hardly unusual. “Early reaction to the strikes from Capitol Hill appeared to break down along party lines,” The New York Times reported, “with Republicans expressing support for the president and Democrats questioning whether Mr. Trump has a well-thought-out strategy for what happens after the military action is over.”
However, there was one notable exception, and it was at the top of their ranks: Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader.
According to The Hill, Schumer said in a statement that the strike was “appropriate,” so long as the United States didn’t seek further involvement in the country’s affairs.
“A pinpointed, limited action to punish and hopefully deter Assad from doing this again is appropriate, but the administration has to be careful about not getting us into a greater and more involved war in Syria,” read a statement from Schumer on Friday night.
Schumer was a surprising holdout from a Democrat caucus that mostly looked down on the attacks, supposedly for a lack of coherent strategy.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said that “one night of airstrikes is not a substitute for a clear, comprehensive Syria strategy.”
This is an interesting remark, inasmuch as Defense Secretary Mattis testified before the House Armed Services Committee earlier in the week and made it clear that the U.S. military had no intention to get involved in the civil war.
“Both the last administration and this one made very clear that our role in Syria is the defeat of ISIS,” Mattis said.
“We are not going to engage in the civil war itself. Now, you can look back to a year ago when we did fire missiles into Syria unrelated to ISIS, and that was of course the use of chemical weapons. And some things are simply inexcusable, beyond the pale, and in the worst interest of not just the chemical weapons convention, but of civilization itself.”
Without actually sharing details of specific strategy points, which would be prima facie counterproductive, that’s a pretty detailed adumbration of what the current American strategy in Syria is.
Of course, there’s another reason why the Democrats are so publicly skeptical about whether President Trump and the Pentagon made the right move: the Obama administration’s decision to let Assad and Syria fester after the first chemical attack on the Syrian people is partially responsible for this mess.
Sen. Schumer, for all of his multifarious faults, is known to sometimes evince something resembling sense on issues of defense. He wasn’t the only top Democrat to express support for the limited strikes on Syria, but he was pretty close to it.
Virginia’s Sen. Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, similarly supported the strikes while also warning against getting involved in the country’s civil war.
“While the U.S. and our allies must not turn a blind eye to Assad’s vile and inhumane attacks against his own citizens, military action in Syria must be measured, as part of a coherent strategy to prevent Assad from using chemical weapons without further destabilizing an already-volatile region or inadvertently expanding the conflict,” Warner said in a statement.
For most of the Democrats, however, it was an opportunity to score some points with the base by opposing Trump. However, by doing so, they’ve put themselves on the wrong side of history. Bashar al-Assad cannot be able to kill his own people with disgusting impunity, which is what the Obama administration allowed.That’s an untenable position — something that even Chuck Schumer seems to realize.
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