US Politics

Syria, Russia and the Trump-Bolton Effect

In the aftermath of the chemical attack in Syria this past week, the Trump administration has sent mixed messages about the United States' response. Tanner Kenney takes a closer look at the events of the past week and what the Trump-Bolton alliance means for Syria, Russia and American allies at large.


Monday, April 9th, 2018, marked the first day on-the-job for the newest National Security Adviser to President Donald Trump, John Bolton, as he replaces Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster. This will be the third National Security Adviser for the Trump Administration, a record for any president in their first year. Bolton will assume the responsibilities of preparing intelligence briefings for President Trump, advising the president on actions he should and should not take regarding matters of national security throughout the world, including a response to the latest chemical attack on civilians in the city of Homs in the Syrian Civil War.

Since the conflict began, an analysis of the roles played by its main actors – ISIS, Syria and its President Bashar al Assad, Russia and its leader (nominal title-changes aside) Vladimir Putin, the United States and President Barack Obama, and many more – allows one to draw various conclusions throughout. In the process, I have found myself agreeing with President Obama’s refusal to put American ‘troops on-the-ground’ as well as starkly disagreeing with his refusal to decimate Assad’s chemical weapon capacity. But nothing has shocked and saddened me as greatly as President Trump’s handling of the decline of the Syrian state as his confounding responses to this week’s events.

As ignominious as Bolton’s appointment is, the most disappointing is the language utilized by the president to avoid any personal responsibility for allowing the latest chemical attack to take place whilst claiming it is directly the fault of former President Barack Obama. By Monday morning, the president finally addressed the nation’s role in responding to the chemical attacks in Homs and vowed the nation was “developing the greatest force that we’ve ever had.” Less than 24 hours later, and further adding to the White House turmoil, the Trump Administration announced the departure of senior homeland security advisor Tom Bossert, “which came as a surprise while the president pushes to ramp up border security[,]” (CNBC). But, this is also seen as portent of things-to-come as Bolton begins his transition into all-things-Trump –

When a CNBC reporter pointed out that Bossert was seen as one of the most effective people in the Trump administration, another White House official, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, responded: “That was likely the problem.”” – CNBC

And on Tuesday morning, April 10th, 2018, President Trump cancelled a trip to South America in order to “oversee the American response to Syria and to monitor developments around the world,” essentially guaranteeing military action in the region despite his desire to not telegraph the maneuver and “because I don’t like talking about timing[.]” However, this official timeline has been called into question as reports indicate Trump merely truncated his South American itinerary and did not cancel the trip until the FBI raided the offices, home, and hotel room of Trump’s President Trump’s personal attorney and “fixer,” Michael Cohen.

Additionally, the United States will apparently warn the Russian government as to the potential location of a strike within Syria, further cementing the belief among observers that President Trump is no longer able to operate in the region without the approval of Vladimir Putin. And while President Trump “is thought to be exploring a much larger strike” than that which targeted a Syrian airbase in April of 2017, he warned Russia prior to that apparently unsuccessful attack, as well.

Personally, I find it incredibly troubling that President Trump believed it was appropriate to replace a decorated military official with the warmonger that is John Bolton when both men fought to avoid serving, in the first place. Furthermore, the rapid departure of individuals with immense military and national security experience following the hiring of Bolton as National Security Advisor is extremely troubling when given his history of advocating for interventionist policies and refusal to accept input from a variety of well-respected international organizations.

Moreover, and just as worrisome as the installation of John Bolton in the president’s cabinet, is the deterioration of the United States’ relationship with NATO and, consequently, the European Union as well as nations aligned with the U.S. that are not currently members of either organization. The ongoing fight against ISIS has placed diplomatic allies on the same battlefield as one another and will continue to test the strength of the bonds created during the Marshall Plan. Regardless of the immediate outcome of a strike against Syria, the United States must not worry about “ruffling Russia’s feathers” and, instead, should focus on the promotion of military cooperation with NATO, the United Nations, and our allies throughout the world.

Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all! In any event, the United States, under my Administration, has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS. Where is our “Thank you America?”” – Pres. Donald J. Trump

Lastly, and perhaps most troublingly, the unknown-unknowns of a Trump-Bolton alliance extend far beyond a military response to Bashar al Assad, let alone Syria. Russia’s annexation of Ukraine has gone relatively unpunished on the global stage. The United States’ previously-positive relationships with several nations have become strained, at best, due to President Trump’s caustic language, questionable timing, and lack of knowledge on numerous subjects. His direction of the American military is as unpredictable as his feelings towards his friends and closest allies. America deserves a better leader than Donald Trump. The world deserves better.

Tanner Kenney is an energy and media professional with a background in journalism and received his M.S. in Global Affairs, Environment & Energy Policy from NYU’s Center for Global Affairs. Recently, Tanner has focused on the advocacy of sustainable development through renewable energy technologies, transportation efficiency, and inclusive public policy.

Photo Credit: Nikkei Asian Review

Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.

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