Syrian airstrikes mark return of American exceptionalism
In this image released by the U.S. Navy, the guided-missile destroyer USS Porter conducts strike operations while in the Mediterranean Sea, April 7, 2017. (FORD WILLIAMS/Getty Images)
All it took was 59 missiles launched from two U.S. Naval destroyers in a one-off strike to pivot the way the world looks at America and the West.
Just like that, the calculus has changed. American exceptionalism is making a comeback.
Foreign policy during the early Obama years saw a needless apology tour that had the effect of downgrading the perception of American power. Meanwhile Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, told the world she’d be using “soft power” to achieve her goals.
Sure, America still remained the global superpower. And Obama and Clinton fancied they were doing the classic “walk soft, carry a big stick” approach. But volunteering to the world their reluctance to use force projected a weak America.
Then projections became reality in 2013 when Obama failed to act on his “red line” - saying there’d be serious consequences if Syria used chemical weapons. When they called his bluff and used them, Obama did nothing.
Now you can debate the details of the situation on the ground in Syria - both then and now - all you want. Go ahead and indulge in false flag talk about where the truth actually lies.
None of this changes the fact Obama’s seemingly minor blunder had a domino effect that furthered many of the troubles the world faces today. The rise of Islamic State, Putin’s emboldened status, Erdogan’s power-play, the global migrant crisis and more – all because America dropped the ball.
This situation could not last. It meant the bad guys in the world were less likely to worry about how America and its allies would respond to their actions. That is not a good place to be.
Now, with Thursday’s missile launch, Trump has changed all of that. This brief and contained surgical strike sent a signal that America has gone from reactive to proactive. The West needs to get back to framing the terms of debate and being a dynamic force of change as opposed to one that just responds to the actions of others.
The idea of American exceptionalism changes over time, but one part that remains the same is that the country leads. It doesn’t follow.
You’d think Trump fans would like this. But some of them are the firmest opponents. A large contingent of MAGA diehards are getting off the Trump Train after these airstrikes.
They have it in their heads that this is the revenge of the swamp - with Hillary’s secret ops team swooping in to brush Steve Bannon aside and co-opt Trump into the old guard Washington consensus.
And in some respects that may very well be true. But what in blazes do they want to see happen instead? Sure, we don’t need another ground game with a view to regime change. Sure, leave the various tribes and sects to take down each other as much as possible.
Like it or not though, the situation in Iraq and Syria has been greater than the sum of its parts for several years now. You can either be in the game or sit on the sidelines and live with the consequences.
The administration called this surprise hit a “one-off”. It’s not a first strike towards war. It’s just a reminder that America’s still kicking. In today’s world, I fail to see the problem with that.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was right to cautiously endorse the airstrikes. “Canada fully supports the United States’ limited and focused action to degrade the Assad regime’s ability to launch chemical weapons”, his statement reads. The caution is in qualifying them as “limited and focused” designed to “degrade”.
This isn’t some all-out assault to take down the Syrian president. It was a message. Let’s hope those prematurely celebrating the West’s decline take it to heart.