Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon write: One week after President Donald Trump’s cruise-missile strike against Syria, one fact stands out above all others: The White House and secretary of state are inexplicably incapable of conveying American intentions to friends, foes, the American public and all other concerned parties. Leaders around the world can reasonably wonder whether the U.S. government has telegraphed its determination to do as little as humanly possible to step Syria’s long bloodletting or lit the fuse to World War III.
Effective signaling in foreign policy and warfare is both vital and no simple matter, as every president discovers. But the confusion sown by the April 6 raid on the Shayrout air base—which has been followed by wildly varying, often irreconcilable public statements heralding far-reaching political changes and a new approach to stopping mass atrocities—is nothing short of remarkable.
Let’s start with the the scale of the air raid itself. In the annals of pinprick strikes, Trump’s Tomahawk attack now stands as the pinprickiest. Republican politicians began using the term pinprick strike in 1998 when the Clinton administration targeted Iraqi military installations suspected of housing weapons of mass destruction. During that four-day campaign, the United States and Britain together launched 425 submarine, ship and air-launched cruise missiles and flew 600 manned aircraft sorties, destroying nearly 100 targets throughout Iraq. Obviously, by that standard, last week’s strike—which consisted of firing 59 Tomahawk missiles at a single Syrian air base—was a different and vastly inferior species. [Continue reading…]