USA TODAY

Kuhner’s Corner: Will Syria become Trump’s Vietnam?

Jeff Kuhner
April 12, 2017 - 11:47 am
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Donald Trump risks becoming a one-term president. His recent missile strike against a Syrian airbase threatens to suck America into the country’s bloody civil war. If that happens, Trump will see many of his voters desert him, almost guaranteeing defeat in 2020. He is playing with fire.

Trump’s decision to launch Tomahawk cruise missiles was in retaliation for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s alleged chemical weapons attack on civilians, which killed over 70 and wounded about 100 people. The president said the images of the horrible suffering of “beautiful babies” convinced him that Assad’s actions could not go unpunished. In other words, Trump’s Syria policy is now being driven by CNN.

War is hell. The truth is that Syria’s civil war has resulted in over 400,000 deaths—many of them women, children and little babies. ISIS, for example, has slaughtered countless innocent lives, including burning and beheading children. Yet, this begs the question: Why are Assad’s alleged war crimes worse than those of ISIS?

Moreover, ISIS has conducted more than 50 chemical weapons attacks in Iraq and Syria over the past six years—including using deadly nerve gas against children and babies. To claim that Assad’s regime is somehow unique in being morally complicit in dropping lethal chemical weapons is war propaganda masquerading as journalism.

Assad is a brutal ruler. Yet, for all of his flaws, he does not threaten nor has he attacked the United States. In fact, his regime is the very opposite: It is the strongest anti-ISIS military force in Syria. He is also the defender of the country’s Alawite and Christian minorities. He is not America’s enemy, but a natural ally in the struggle against radical Islamists.

United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley is now vowing that Assad must go. So is Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Hence, the Trump administration’s policy has evolved into regime change—a complete reversal of his campaign pledge not to intervene in Syria. Trump’s supporters may have thought they were getting “America First.” Instead, they are getting military interventionism and the possibility of another Middle East war. Egged on by neoconservative war hawks, such as John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio, along with a bloodthirsty mainstream media, Trump is slowly being dragged into a Syrian quagmire.

The ignorance (and arrogance) of our foreign policy elites is astonishing. Every time U.S. policymakers have imposed regime change—Iraq, Libya, Egypt—the results were disastrous. Secular dictators were deposed. Radical Islamists, however, seized power. They not only unleashed genocide and mass murder, but virulent anti-Americanism. The same pattern risks repeating itself in Syria. Should Assad fall, who rises? Answer: Islamic insurgents.

Regime change will lead to the creation of a Sunni fundamentalist state. Whether it is run by ISIS, al Qaeda, the al-Nusra Front or some other Muslim rebel group is irrelevant. The outcome will be bad for the United States—and especially, for Syria’s Christians and Alawites, who will be wiped out by the rampaging Islamists.      

Moreover, Assad is backed by Russia and Iran. Vladimir Putin has already warned Trump that any further action against Assad’s regime will trigger a Russian military response. The reason is obvious: Unlike for America, Syria is in Russia’s vital national interest. Moscow needs its proxy, Assad, to remain in power. Syria provides Russia with its only naval base in the Mediterranean. Historically, the Great Russian Imperium has seen itself as the protector of the Christians in the east. It is deeply embedded in the Russian national psyche. Above all, the Kremlin has its own Muslim insurgency to deal with. An Islamic Syria would enable Jihadists to penetrate the Caucasus and pose a mortal terrorist threat to Russia’s soft southern underbelly. This is why, for Putin, Syria is a real red line that cannot be crossed.

Trump’s missile strike and his administration’s growing calls for regime change puts the U.S. on a collision course with Putin’s Russia—one that risks a possible World War III. For if America becomes enmeshed in Syria’s sectarian war, it will find itself fighting not just Russia, but Assad’s forces, Iran and Hezbollah. At best, Syria will become another Vietnam, a protracted quagmire costing precious American blood and treasure. At worst, it will become a geopolitical nightmare.

A major reason why Trump won was his promise to stop our endless wars in the Middle East. Now, his administration is on the verge of starting another one. A war in Syria will break his presidency. I—and millions of other Trump supporters—did not vote for more military adventurism and failed nation-building.

Mr. President: Stay out of Syria. This is our red line.     

-Jeffrey T. Kuhner is host of “The Kuhner Report” on WRKO AM-680 in Boston.

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