WASHINGTON – It’s another GOP civil war.
Two weeks ago, it was over health care. Now it’s Syria.
President Trump’s first significant military action as commander in chief has divided prominent conservatives, some hailing the airstrikes on Syria, others condemning it.
That’s because the division isn’t really over the attack. The big question is what comes next?
Is the president leading America into war?
As of now, GOP establishment figures such as House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and a number of Democratic leaders are supporting the president. So are some well-known conservatives.
“The president made the right move, if, as reported, our military destroyed the Syrian airbase and 20 planes,” former congresswoman Michele Bachmann told WND.
“By doing that, the president said to the world’s bad actors, if you use chemical weapons there will be consequences, as there should be,” she added.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, agreed, telling Fox News, “I think Putin, and for that matter, bad actors across the globe, the only thing they respect is strength,” while adding that the president should get congressional approval for any further military action.
“With eight years of Barack Obama as president, what we saw was a weak president whose word did not mean anything. Our friends did not trust us, and our enemies did not fear us,” Cruz added.
Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, also supported the president’s move, saying, “I thought it was a very measured response. It was a good response … this was a real attack that took out real Russian made airplanes that Assad will not be able to ever use again.”
Gohmert told an East Texas television station, “In this case they knew exactly the airfield, where that poison gas was loaded, they knew exactly what planes were loaded … This was a clear message to Assad. It was a clear message to the Russians.”
However, some strong supporters of the president were highly critical of the airstrikes.
Talk show giant Michael Savage declared, “This beating of the war drums with Russia has to stop.”
“Who got to you Mr. President?” he asked. “Who is whispering in your ear and could have made you make this dramatic of a change towards Russia in just three days?”
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., criticized President Trump for not seeking congressional approval beforehand, and noted, “Our prior interventions in this region have done nothing to make us safer and Syria will be no different.”
“While we all condemn the atrocities in Syria, the United States was not attacked,” Paul tweeted.
Perhaps the president’s biggest supporter in the 2016 campaign, columnist Ann Coulter, tweeted, “Those who wanted us meddling in the Middle East voted for other candidates.”
“Trump campaigned on not getting involved in Mideast. Said it always helps our enemies and creates more refugees. Then he saw a picture on TV,” she added, in reference to images of Syrians gruesomely killed in gas attacks, including children.
Coulter also noted, “Christians who live in Syria are terrified of what will happen if Assad is gone.”
National Review columnist Andrew McCarthy blasted the airstrikes as illegal and unwise, and wrote, “The U.S. has no vital national interest in joining (Syria’s) civil war.”
He continued, “President Donald Trump has now done what candidate Donald Trump committed not to do: He has launched a military strike against a foreign regime — a repulsive one, to be sure — in the absence of any threat, much less any attack, against the United States, in furtherance of no vital American interests.”
McCarthy also observed there would be no American interest is deposing the Syrian dictator if he were to be replaced by a “sharia-supremacist regime that is more likely than Assad to make Syria a platform for jihadist attacks against our homeland.”
So, what does come next?
Is the president leading America into war?
Clues from the administration point in completely opposite directions.
The Pentagon signaled this was not the beginning of a military campaign when a defense official told Reuters the airstrikes on a Syrian airfield in retaliation for the deadly gassing of it’s own citizens was a “one-off” event, and there were no plans to escalate U.S. military involvement.
The official said he believed that the strike “did not signal a major shift” in the president’s intention not to become involved in foreign entanglements.
On the other hand, just before Thursday’s attack, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did signal such a major shift.
He told reporters “steps are underway” to form an international coalition to pressure Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to leave office.
Later that night, after the airstrikes were announced, Tillerson indicated he was referring to diplomatic pressure rather than military force, when he said, “Through the Geneva process, we will start a political process to resolve Syria’s future in terms of its governance structure,” and, “That, ultimately, in our view, will lead to a resolution of Bashar al-Assad’s departure.”
However, in his earlier remarks, Tillerson suggested that the use of force was part of the equation when he also called for “an international effort to defeat ISIS in Syria, stabilize the country and ultimately work with partners through a political process that leads to Assad leaving power.”
WND asked Bachmann if such an intervention would be wise, considering how poorly a coalition effected regime change in Libya.
Especially, WND added, considering what happened when secular dictators were removed in Libya, Egypt, Iraq, and Iran.
Would she not be concerned a void in Syria would be filled by a jihadist regime, despite our best intentions?
“It’s too early to weigh in on that. I don’t have enough background on the intended endgame,” replied the former member of the House Intelligence Committee.
She described the administration as in a tough spot: “America’s options are fewer and made more difficult after Obama’s pro Russian Mid East policy.”
Bachmann emphasized the importance of the big picture.
“The end goal must be a secure Israel and a Syria not in control by either an Iranian or ISIS-led regime. Tough stuff,” she remarked.
She also reminded WND how things got to this point.
“I was in Congress when (former Secretary of State John) Kerry and (former President) Obama’s big idea was to remove U.S. influence from the Middle East and welcome Russian influence for the first time in over 30 years. That tragic decision led to an unholy Russian/Iranian/Turkish coalition emboldened to cooperate and enable the worst elements across the globe, leaving Israel vulnerable as prey.”
She described how that policy led to the current problem.
“That also led to the foolish, feckless belief that Russia removed 100 percent of Syria’s chemical weapons, as stated unequivocally by Sec. Kerry and NSC chair Susan Rice. Again, that wrong statement lulled the region (other than Israel) into an illusion of safety. The illusion was broken by photos of gassed Syrians.”
Conservative icon Rush Limbaugh made a similar point on Friday, noting, “Susan Rice that can’t tell the truth about anything.”
He recalled that in January she “assured everybody that the Obama administration had succeeded in demanding that Assad get rid of all of his chemical and WMD. She assured everybody that that had happened when obviously it hasn’t.”
“Clearly, the previous administration either was incompetent or they were lying to us. They either accepted Assad’s word for it — that he had gotten rid of the chemical weapons and WMD — or knew that he didn’t and just lied to us anyway.”
That led Limbaugh to conclude that Trump hadn’t attacked just Syria with the airstrikes, he also used the occasion to flip the script on a major domestic scandal.
The talk show host set up that observation by first noting that U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley “is giving (the Russians) hell right now.”
“She’s saying that Assad could get away with gassing because they knew Russia had their backs, but that’s no longer the case. It doesn’t matter if Russia has their backs, because Russia has nothing to do with our foreign policy.”
That led Limbaugh to conclude, “I mean, she just smacked ’em! She laid it right out for every one of these Democrats and leftists that think that Trump’s in collusion with Putin. She nuked the hell out of that.”
Limbaugh suggested that the Trump administration, via Haley, is using the Syria attack to declare the outline of a strong foreign policy, and to put America’s adversaries on notice.
“She called out the Iranian government. She called out the Russians. She was firing both barrels. She said the U.S.A. is not gonna allow Assad to get away with any more murder. She called out the Russians, said they were supposed to get all the chemical weapons out, and they did not.”
Limbaugh said Haley “dropped the hammer” by announcing “the world is waiting for Russia to act properly in Syria because they have not yet.”
“That’s just gonna blow everything sky-high when it comes to this notion that Putin (and the president) are inseparable and Trump has been co-opted by Putin and is a — for all intents and purposes — secret Russian agent.”
In other words, Limbaugh suggested the biggest casualty of the airstrikes on Syria was the narrative, pushed by Democrats and the media, of collusion between Russia and Trump.
And that is something all conservatives likely would endorse.