For the past two years, Sen. John McCain has made it his personal mission to thwart, criticize, and otherwise attack Donald Trump at every available opportunity. And while nothing the Arizona senator ever says will hold a candle to the unforgiveable betrayal of his Obamacare repeal vote, it is nonetheless tiresome to hear a member of Trump’s own party go out of his way to blame the president for something as heinous as another leader’s war crimes. We would be rightfully outraged if Chuck Schumer said Trump was responsible for the recent gas attack launched by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad; we are apoplectic when it comes from someone who is supposed to be supporting the nominal leader of the Republican Party.
In a statement released on Sunday, McCain said, “President Trump last week signaled to the world that the United States would prematurely withdraw from Syria. Bashar Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers have heard him, and emboldened by American inaction, Assad has reportedly launched another chemical attack against innocent men, women and children.
“President Trump was quick to call out Assad today, along with the Russian and Iranian governments, on Twitter,” he said. “The question now is whether he will do anything about it. The President responded decisively when Assad used chemical weapons last year. He should do so again and demonstrate that Assad will pay a price for his war crimes.”
So even in his statement throwing Trump under the bus, McCain is forced to admit that the president wasted no time firing missiles at a Syrian air base last year when Assad used chemical weapons for the first time since Trump assumed the presidency. Furthermore, what signals was Trump sending at THAT time that made Assad feel that he could get away with such an attack? It strikes us as recklessly premature to assume that Assad took some sort of comfort from Trump’s statements that he would like to withdraw American troops in the near future. Even if he did, would McCain have us stay in Syria indefinitely? To what end? If we’re going to overthrow the Assad government, let’s get to it. If we aren’t, then what the hell are we doing? Is ISIS defeated or not?
It is clear, though, from his statement that McCain would indeed like American troops to put Assad out of power. “No one should believe we are out of options,” he said. “We can and should change course – starting with a comprehensive strategy that lays out clear objectives for our mission there. It’s not too late to stop Assad’s impunity and begin to rewrite this terrible chapter in our history.”
We will agree 100% with Sen. McCain that this misbegotten Syrian adventure (begun, lest we forget, by President Obama) has been a “terrible chapter in our history.” But unless we want to escalate this war into something that could easily turn into something much, much worse than Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam put together, we need to be realistic about our options. If Republican voters wanted to see how close we could come to triggering World War III, John, we would have voted for your boy, Lindsey Graham.
McCain is right that this heinous attack deserves an American response, but we trust that Trump will be wise enough not to repeat the mistakes of his predecessors.