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Warrior Trump

A Commentary by John Stossel

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Somehow, firing Tomahawk missiles at Syria suddenly changed people's opinions of President Trump. Now they call him a "serious" leader.

William Kristol said Trump's action "reassures you."

Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain, long critical of Trump, now say he "deserves the support of the American people."

Politicians from France, the U.K., the EU, Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Australia expressed their support. So did Hillary Clinton.

"Why is war such an alluring illusion?" asks Jeffrey Tucker, of the Foundation for Economic Education. "Good intentions are never enough to justify government intervention in anything. This is especially true in war, the meanest, deadliest, and most destructive government program ever conceived. And yet we keep doing it."

Trump says pictures of Syrian children killed by nerve gas moved him to order the attack. His supporters say launching the missiles was the "moral" thing to do.

But Syria's dictator killed more children in the past.

In 2013, after a horrible chemical attack, Trump tweeted, "Do not attack Syria. There is no upside and tremendous downside ... If the U.S. attacks Syria and hits the wrong targets, killing civilians, there will be worldwide hell to pay. Stay away."

Fortunately, it appears that these missile strikes didn't kill civilians. But four years ago Trump also said, "What will we get for bombing Syria besides more debt and a possible long term conflict?"

What changed? Just seeing pictures on TV?

For years, we've tried to sort out who is on which side in Syria. Last week's attack was an awfully fast switch to military action.

Both Democratic and Republican interventionists focus on Assad as the bad guy. Many say getting rid of him will make the Syrian public less likely to side with ISIS.

Maybe. But they've been completely wrong before about the aftermath of war. In Syria, dozens of factions are fighting each other. We don't know the motives of all of them. Some rebels Assad wants to crush are openly allied with ISIS.

None of this makes Assad a good guy, but it means we don't know what will replace him if he gets toppled. Fourteen years ago, many people thought nothing could be worse for Iraq than Saddam Hussein. The groups unleashed when Saddam fell were worse.

Before that, our support of "freedom fighters" in Afghanistan helped arm the Taliban and eventually ISIS. Today, they kill Americans with weapons American taxpayers paid for.

In Libya, Tucker reminds us, "(T)he US intervened with airstrikes to overthrow a terrible dictator but instead of unleashing freedom, the results unleashed a terror army that continues to spread violence and death ... (I)t is not enough merely to bomb a government or regime into disgrace, resignation or obliteration. It is grossly irresponsible not to ask the question: what comes after?"

We don't even know for certain that it was the Syrian president who used nerve gas.

He claims his regime attacked anti-government militias with conventional bombs, and one must have hit gas that the militias themselves stored.

I don't know if that's true, but I have a hard time being as confident as people like John McCain about what's going on over in the Middle East.

Even if Assad was responsible for the nerve gas, it's not obvious that using nerve gas is a more horrendous crime than fighting wars by other means. Nearly everyone seems to think so, and chemical weapons do drift in the air, making them more likely to kill civilians. But families torn apart by conventional bombs take little consolation in knowing that what killed their relatives wasn't poison gas.

If Trump turns out to be like most past presidents, he'll see his popularity rise because he took military action. George W. Bush's approval rating spiked 10 percent after he invaded Iraq. When his father invaded, his approval rating jumped 28 percent.

Trump loves being popular. I fear his new slogan may be "Syria first, then North Korea, then..."

John Stossel is the author of "No They Can't! Why Government Fails -- But Individuals Succeed." For other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.

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