Trump Ignores Teddy Roosevelt's Advice On Syria - And His Own

Strongly worded tweets are not sufficient to win the war in Syria.

Once upon a time, an American president said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” About a hundred years after that, another American who would later become president said, “Why do we keep broadcasting when we are going to attack Syria. Why can't we just be quiet and, if we attack at all, catch them by surprise?” Now President Trump seems to have ignored both his own advice to President Obama and the counsel of Theodore Roosevelt.

Since the latest Syrian gas attack on civilians last weekend, President Trump and American allies have threatened retaliatory action. Russia, which has troops in Syria supporting the regime, responded with a threat to shoot down any missiles used to strike Assad's forces.

President Trump responded with a tweet this morning that said, “Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and 'smart!' You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”

A second tweet a short time later was more conciliatory, as if perhaps John Kelly might have alerted the president to the fact that he just threatened to start what could potentially become WWIII. Trump appealed to Vladimir Putin, saying, “Our relationship with Russia is worse now than it has ever been, and that includes the Cold War. There is no reason for this. Russia needs us to help with their economy, something that would be very easy to do, and we need all nations to work together. Stop the arms race?”

A third tweet on the subject, about 90 minutes later, was the obligatory swipe at the Mueller and the Russia investigation as well as a denial of collusion. “Much of the bad blood with Russia is caused by the Fake & Corrupt Russia Investigation, headed up by the all Democrat loyalists, or people that worked for Obama. Mueller is most conflicted of all (except Rosenstein who signed FISA & Comey letter). No Collusion, so they go crazy!”

In telegraphing his intention to strike Syria, President Trump ignored his own advice and his successful strategy from last year. Just over a year ago, after a previous Syrian gas attack, Trump ordered a surprise missile raid on the Syrian airbase that had launched the attack.

With his warning to Syria and Russia, this time President Trump has upped the ante. There can be no doubt that Syrian air defenses, which include Russian forces, will be on high alert. This may needlessly put American pilots at risk.

A better tactic would have been the one successfully used by Trump last year – and by the Israelis earlier this week. As suggested so long ago by Teddy Roosevelt, President Trump should avoid the war of words and hit the Syrians without warning if a strike is truly his intent.

Over the past decade, the world has gotten used to strong talk from the United States. All too often that talk is not accompanied by action. When President Obama drew his line in the sand and then did nothing, American credibility suffered. Obama had previously said, “Assad must go,” but again did nothing.

Last year, President Trump backed his words with a one-off missile strike, but ultimately put Syria on the back burner. Last weekend's gas attack was preceded by President Trump's instructions to the military to prepare for a withdrawal of all forces from Syria. A similar unilateral withdrawal from Iraq by President Obama allowed ISIS to flourish.

Strongly worded tweets are not sufficient to win the war in Syria. President Trump should take the advice that he and President Roosevelt offered so long ago. Talk to military commanders instead of tweeting to the world. Find a winning strategy and use it to hit the enemy... hard.

Further, winning in Syria requires a long-term commitment, not just a quick missile strike. If the US withdraws, Russia and Iran will be the dominant players in the region. This would put a large hostile force on the border of Israel and perilously close to the oil fields of Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Nature abhors a vacuum, and, as Barack Obama found out, so do terrorist groups and despotic regimes. Hopefully, President Trump will learn from President Obama's missteps.

"Strongly worded tweets are not sufficient to win the war in Syria....Find a winning strategy and use it to hit the enemy... hard. Further, winning in Syria requires a long-term commitment, not just a quick missile strike."

David, I am asking this as a serious question. What is winning in Syria? Gassing civilians is horrible. But if it is genocide that we oppose and will fight, what about Darfur and countless other places around the world with mass genocide, less global political risks that we do nothing about.

What is winning? Is it removing Assad? If so, then what takes his place and what evidence do we have to think the replacement is going be more humane and/or less friendly to Iran and Russia?

Is it creating a democracy in Syria? If so, how well has that worked out for us in Afghanistan and Iraq?

We opposed Assad. Then we helped him when ISIS rose up. Now we are against him again. Before we determine what a winning strategy is, we need to figure out what winning is.

Sometimes, there is no win. That means there is also sometimes no winning strategy. The idea that we can blow up another country, pay to rebuild it and then establish a democracy that is western-friendly among people that don't want it for themselves is foolish.

We have put ourselves in a bad spot by setting the prescient that we will respond. If we don't, we look weak and ineffective, or like Obama, which is the same thing. If we retaliate, we risk igniting an ever expanding war, where each side keeps upping the ante. That line of thinking in Vietnam lead to 58,000 Americans dead and 303,000 wounded, millions with massive mental scars and drug addiction, cultural upheval and untold damages to our American society. We didn't seem to learn a single thing from Vietnam. Sometimes you have to recognize when there is no "win" and cut your loses.

Our foreign policy has been mired for the last 50 years in conflicts that we have no real winning strategy for. We prop up one group against another and then end up fighting every ally sooner or later (except Israel). We armed Iraq against Iran and then fought them in two wars. We armed Al-Qaeda and the Taliban against the USSR, and then we fought them. We allied with Iran and Syria against ISIS and then we fight against them numerous other times. We are fighting over the ugly girls at the bar. All of them will steal your money and give you a VD, but we seem incapable of just walking away and accepting that there are no good options.

If a conflict isn't worth asking you own child to put on the uniform and risk their life for, then it isn't worth fighting. If our leaders would approach conflicts with that in mind, we would all be a lot better off. These people hate our guts and they will for the foreseeable future.

What is the pressing American interest that justifies the commitment of the U.S. to the war in Syria?


Those are valid questions and many of them need to be answered by policy makers, including President Trump.

My answer would be that, at minimum, winning would include not ceding the region to Russia, Iran and ISIS as well as preventing WMD attacks as well as preventing the genocide. Chemical attacks, to use Obama's phrase have long been a red line for the world. It's important to stand firm on at least that much to prevent wider use.

Beyond that, the genocide leads directly to the refugee crisis which is leading to instability and terror in Europe. If we can stop the slaughter in Syria, we solve the refugee crisis. Darfur was horrible, but the Syrian crisis has a direct effect on the security of the US and our allies.

I appreciate the response. I agree that ideally, we would stop Syria from using chemical weapons and keep Russia and Iran from controlling the region. The problem is the application of that strategy. If Assad is not in power, then who takes over and why would they be better? I don't see any good players, other than the Kurds. We won't empower them because we don't want to anger Turkey, I assume. Maybe the solution is a rocket attack for chemical attacks. Otherwise, just try and keep Syria, Iran and Russia spending money and fighting. That said, is a Syria in civil war more humane than a brutal dictator in power, if there are no good players to take over after the civil war?

Any sentence that starts off "Hopefully president Trump will learn..." leaves me in stitches. That's to hope against hope. Also you write "In telegraphing his intention to strike Syria, President Trump ignored his own advice and his successful strategy from last year." ... I doubt he remembers any of this.

Too often our military leaders want to engage. They train their whole lives to fight, and the natural inclination is to do that when an opportunity presents itself. Generals seem to be the only people that Trump respects and will actually defer to as experts. I think that is why it is important to have voices of people like Rand Paul involved. I don't agree with a lot of his foreign policy thinking, but he asks questions that need to be asked and questions assumptions that we operate off of. It is good to have dissenting voices in the conversation to try and clarify what the purpose is. We need to think long term strategy and not just want is needed at this moment. As I said, Kennedy and then Johnson, never meant for Vietnam to become what it was. They just never were willing to cut losses and look at the environment around our effort. We were trying to prop up a weak and ineffective government that was despised by half of its own country. We simply cannot win in a situation like that because you can't make another country want freedom. They have to be willing to do that in mass numbers and willing and able to sustain it. We escalated and escalated until we ended up with a massive debacle that haunts us to this day.

The problem isn't that we have to flatten a Syrian airbase. The problem is that Syria has any airbases at all. They should ALL! look like the Barringer Crater. And Russia is just going to have to go screw itself, they're not contenders and never have been. We, the West, have been appeasing that delusion since 1945 and it's time to stop. Yes, they should be kicked off the Security Council (or at least lose their Veto)

I believe that the arm chair quarterbacks need to take a deep breath, gather themselves and then wait. Wait for WHAT? First, the President is the Tweet King. Nothing is going to stop him, period. Second, the ball is now in his court. Third, give him the space and time to do what he says he is going to do. Fourth, if he fails to follow through, then let the words come out.

Don't count on Trump to learn anything. He doesn't take direction well. He is the king of bullying and intimidation. His Tweets prove it.

Trump has the big stick but doesn't know how to talk softly. He attacked Obama for not defending the red line, so he made Putin look great. Assad would fall without Russian support. Hillary made a big deal about the reset button, and then sold uranium to Russia. To me Trump want to stay out of most global conflicts, but fight to win if we do engage. With Isis almost defeated in Syria, we are back to the old civil war. Do we make this a civil war issue, or regional issue with Israel and Iran in the picture. The Syria-Russia connection is the last tie of the cold war. I see no good answer in regards to Syria as long as Russia backs them up.