In a series of Saturday morning tweets ahead of a public update from the Pentagon, President Trump praised the U.S. military for the execution of coordinated strikes in Syria, thanked the U.K and France for their support, and sent a reminder to Congress to approve increased military spending.
Amid distraction and dysfunction, Trump looked and acted like a traditional commander-in-chief last night, announcing a punitive missile strike on Syria that was quite constrained, and was backed by two top U.S. allies.
- Why it matters: The strikes were narrowly retaliatory against use of chemical weapons, and not designed to overthrow or even especially destabilize the Assad regime.
- Trump said in his brief address to the nation that Assad's "evil and the despicable attack left mothers and fathers, infants and children, thrashing in pain and gasping for air. These are not the actions of a man; they are crimes of a monster instead."
- Perhaps his most consequential line: "We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents."
- The response had a situational quality: While predictable after this week, it was not the product of a sustained or articulated philosophy or policy.
- On the contrary, as Jonathan Swan points out, Trump has been conflicted and contradictory, saying he wanted to get out of Syria but then re-engaging after seeing photos of dead and dying children from the latest attack.
The signs are that Trump, as he has in past crucial moments, listened to his generals:
- NBC's Andrea Mitchell reported a very big concern in the Pentagon about "avoiding a wider war."
- The Wall Street Journal reports that Trump pressed Defense Secretary Jim Mattis "for a more sweeping military option that would deter Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from launching any more chemical attacks."
- But Mattis "wanted a more limited action that wouldn’t risk a wider confrontation with Russian forces occupying a piece of the Syrian battlefield."
- The early-morning strikes were squarely on the Mattis side.
At a Pentagon briefing an hour after Trump addressed the nation from the White House, Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the three targets were "specifically associated" with chemical weapons.
- Mattis, briefing side by side with Dunford, called the strikes a "one-time shot": "Right now, we have no additional attacks planned."
The bottom line, from Reuters: "The bombing represents a major escalation putting the West in direct confrontation with Assad’s superpower ally Russia, but is unlikely to alter the course of a multi-sided war which has killed at least half a million people in the past seven years."
Be smart: Key voices in Trump's base continue to resist overseas intervention. A former Trump campaign office tells Swan: "strikes not supported by base ... 'massive' strikes repulses the base."