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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

“America first” in foreign policy

America first in foreign policy

New administration should consider global role

President Donald Trump was at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida with Chinese president Xi Jinping on April 6.  All eyes were on the possibility of new trade deals, North Korea’s nuclear development and a newfound relationship between the United States and China.  Meanwhile, only a select few in President Trump’s inner circle knew of the pending U.S. military attack on a Syrian base. 

An hour later, as President Jinping was pulling away in his motorcade, 59 tomahawk cruise missiles struck the Al Shayrat airbase in Syria. In a somewhat unexpected move, President Trump broke away from the foreign policy of the previous administration and directly involved America with the ongoing Syrian civil war.

This attack, however, was not unprovoked, and deemed by many—in both the Democratic and Republican parties—as a completely justified response to President Bashar Al-Assad’s bombing of his own people just days before.

As if genocide wasn’t already atrocious enough, the suspected chemical agent, sarin,  had horrible effects.  Killing 89 people,  the attack’s reports described people foaming from the mouth and struggling to breath.  This reaction is due to the effects sarin has. 

Chemical warfare “attacks the nervous system” and causes death through asphyxiation, according to a Business Insider article by reporter Dave Mosher. In what was deemed by the administration as a proportional response, President Trump made the decision to strategically target the military installation through these chemical attacks, and the warplanes carrying them, were located.

Not only were these chemical attacks terrible, they are not the first time Assad has carried out such actions.  Back in 2013, Assad chemically bombed the city of Damascus killing around 1300 people.  After blatant disregard for the chemical weapons treaty earlier this month, many agree this incidence of genocide marked the need for change.

After the 2013 attack was confirmed to be chemical warfare, “three separate Washington Post-ABC News polls found clear majorities of the public opposed launching missile strikes in Syria,” pollster Scott Clement of the Washington Post wrote on April 4.  This time around, however, at least as far as government officials are concerned, Clement notes that there are “fairly positive reactions from Congress,” despite Trump not seeking congressional approval.

Trump ran a campaign based on the notion of putting America first. Through his many speeches and press releases, he listed the dangers of globalization and the necessity to focus on domestic issues in the United States and not play the role of world police.  This attack against the citizens in Syria, however, seems to have changed his perspective to a degree.  He admitted that Assad’s bombing altered his view on the situation, and that the brutally murdered children had a serious impact on his decision.

While this reaction is certainly understandable, it has opened up the question of America’s role in the region.  Following several wars in the Middle East and an overwhelming desire to leave the region—something Obama made efforts towards—this move seems to have positioned the U.S. back at the forefront of rebel opposition in a highly unstable country. Despite claiming that the United States’ position in Syria remains unchanged, it is difficult to imagine that the United States will return to allow the Assad regime to carry out unfettered attacks. 

What is most surprising about these strikes is the public reaction. Even one of Trump’s most critical opponents have defended the action.  Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is constantly critiquing the administration. Yet, even Warren  expressed the necessity for action after such an atrocity.  However, she asked for a clear explanation from the administration about their plans in the region.

The administration is now positioned in a very difficult place and presented with the first real foreign policy issue of the term. During the previous administration, the regime was criticized for its actions; however, no direct confrontation was taken against the regime. The strike also highlights the lack of unified foreign policy in the current administration. While many agree with the strike—for the time being at least—the administration has yet to develop a coherent and public policy towards both our allies and enemies.  It was easy for President Trump to ridicule our countries foreign policy while he was campaigning, but it is now his administration and his decisions that will shape the U.S. relations with other countries for years to come.

Going forward, the administration will have to decide whether to stand by their “America First” approach and leave the Syrian civil war alone or actively participate in the civil war. While not criticizing the actual strike, many are wary of the implications from this decision.

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