War is hell, and whenever the weapons of war are used, even in a measured and deliberate way, it is frightening and worrisome. People die, which is tragic enough. Beyond that, we can never be sure what will follow, and whether the situation will escalate.
Not everyone in the world shares our values. There are men with enormous power for whom the deaths of innocent civilians — even citizens of their own countries — mean little. There are cruel and despotic tyrants, men whose ambitions are all-consuming and who are willing to use any means to achieve their ends.
In an act of civilized self-defense, most of the world’s nations have agreed to prohibit the use of certain kinds of weapons, those generally known as “weapons of mass destruction.” These include atomic, biological, and chemical weapons.
We believe that the government of Syria deployed such a weapon a few days ago, when dozens of people were killed by poison gas in an attack believed to have been launched by the Syrian government against a community it considered hostile to its interests. The dead include men, women, and children.
If we believe — and I do — that it is prudent to prohibit the use of weapons of mass destruction, then it logically follows that there should be consequences, costs, for those who choose to use them. It would be nice if the United Nations could be counted on to impose such costs, but it is a feckless and corrupt organization. Beyond that, Russia, an ally of Syria, has veto power on the UN Security Council and can prevent any effective UN response to Syria.
The United States is the world’s premier military power and the most effective guardian of global peace and security in history. We, together with our allies France and the United Kingdom, responded to Syria’s use of poison gas in a measured and effective way, destroying three government facilities believed to be crucial to Syria’s WMD programs. This is precisely the kind of targeted, limited, but serious response that I think is appropriate in these circumstances. It increases the cost of using WMDs while avoiding embroiling us in a large-scale military venture into a war-torn and unstable region.
I think those concerned about a Russian reprisal are concerned unnecessarily: Russia is in some sense already a rogue state, but unlikely to take significant military action to defend the right of an international pariah to use chemical weapons against its own people. I expect diplomatic outrage, but little more.
And, for the second time since his election, I applaud President Trump for quick, measured, and decisive military action.