Of all the reactions to President Donald Trump’s cruise missile strike on Thursday, the least convincing was the impulse by supporters such as Sen. Marco Rubio and John Bolton to label this a “decisive” act. Hardly. In fact, Trump’s strike was reminiscent of the kind of low-risk cruise missile attacks that Bill Clinton favored against Sudan, Iraq, and Afghanistan — and that Republicans mocked for their symbolic, ineffectual nature. After 9/11, you’ll recall, President George W. Bush vowed, in a swipe at his predecessor, “When I take action, I’m not going to fire a $2 million missile at a $10 empty tent and hit a camel in the butt. It’s going to be decisive.”
Looks like we’re back to killing camels. Far from decisive, Trump’s decision to fire 59 cruise missiles against a single air base in Syria was considerably smaller than the action that President Barack Obama was considering to enforce his “red line” in 2013 before he lost his nerve. Obama was on the verge of approving an air campaign to destroy Bashar al-Assad’s air defenses and air force — what Secretary of State John Kerry described at the time as an “unbelievably small, limited kind of effort.” Trump, by contrast, merely took one air base out of operation for less than a day. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that within 24 hours, Syrian jets were once again taking off from Shayrat air base. Not only that: On Saturday, aircraft again were bombing Khan Sheikhoun, the very town that earlier in the week had been the site of a sarin gas attack. What’s smaller than “unbelievably small”?