The Transom, Ben Domenech, April 11, 2017

The overwhelming critical response to Donald Trump’s attack on Syria was positive, with a number of liberal and neoconservative commentators referring to it as a signal that the Trump administration would be more forceful against the Assad regime than the Obama administration had been. This posture benefits Trump, at least temporarily, with a host of people who’ve been grumbling about a weak stance toward Russia and general noise about pulling back from our obligations around the world. But how will his supporters view it, given their general reluctance to be sucked into new conflicts?

Polls show: They’re fine with it. The Washington Post oddly describes an 11 point margin as “Narrow” in this headline:  “By 51 to 40 percent, more support than oppose the missile strikes launched early Friday on the Shayrat air base in Syria, with opinions dividing sharply along partisan lines. Trump’s action was widely praised by Republicans, as well as many Democrats, though there has been less agreement on what additional steps to take. The Post-ABC poll finds 54 percent oppose additional military strikes against the Syrian government at this time. And while more than half the public endorses a policy of trying to remove Assad as Syria’s president — 51 percent — just 35 percent support exerting more military force to do so.”

But there’s little question that for Trump’s more nationalist supporters, this isn’t what they were looking for from him.  “Trump promised to “drain the swamp” and put “America First.” Listeners understood the former as reducing the perks and privileges of the entrenched bureaucracy in Washington. On the latter, he counseled a policy of greater realism. He questioned foreign policy experts’ ability to deliver security to the American people, and he was right. Republicans typically are pro-military to the point of servility. Trump had the temerity to note the military’s lack of recent successes, whether with ISIS or in Iraq.

“More broadly, he rejected the notion of America as a sacrificial lamb whose universalism must extend outside its borders. Contrary to the Left’s notions of “humanitarian war” and the mainstream GOP’s concept of America as an “indispensable” nation that must provide “leadership,” Trump defined the interests of America narrowly on the solid ground of tangible safety, security, and prosperity. No more dubious campaigns such as Kosovo, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, and Bosnia. Never again would we endure the casual invocation of “never again.”

Yet despite the letdown some of those supporters feel, the bigger question is: what is the right strategy, and how is victory defined?  “[M]uch more than a heinous war crime, Assad’s actions represent a dangerous precedent that is directly threatening to U.S. interests at home and abroad. His use of WMDs in time of conflict represents a rare use of a weapon that more than 175 nations have banned, and has only been used in war four other times since World War I (once by Assad in 2013).

“If Assad were allowed to act with impunity—which is essentially what happened following his 2013 use of Sarin—every dictator the world over would rightly understand that the United States turns a blind eye to the development and use of WMDs of all kinds, even in the back yards of U.S. allies. How can the United States assert the moral right to call for the denuclearization of North Korea when we care little about the use of a different WMD in Syria? What do we do when a WMD isn’t merely used in our allies’ back yard, but in our own?”