The history books will record the date of January 20, 2017 as the day that Donald Trump became the President of the United States, but this is simply not the case. Sure, he technically had been the President, living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue signing executive orders, and making speeches, but he had not been the President. At no point had he been able to distinguish himself from Candidate Trump, the billionaire New-Yorker who threw political correctness to the curb and pulled off the largest upset in electoral history. He hadn't been able to distinguish himself from the populist fear-mongering candidate who was able to uncover the incredible anger that many people have felt for Washington DC, and who regularly writes offensive tweets at odd hours. He had not shown any signs that he has the leadership skills to demonstrate to the rest of the world that he was the leader of the free world, and the most powerful man on the planet, until recently.
On April 4, 2017, the Syrian Government, once again, used chemical weapons in an attack on innocent civilians. Being one of the worst chemical attacks in the Syrian Civil War's six-year history, it killed 83 innocent civilians, including 25 children, and injured another 350.
In 2012, President Obama declared that the use of chemical weapons in Syria was a "red line." However, President Obama then failed to take direct action against the Syrian Government as a response to the chemical weapons attack in 2013. His lack of intervention had been criticized by many on both sides of the aisle and made America's promises of "red lines" sound more like empty threats.
President Trump took a different approach. Like President Obama, Trump called the attack "reprehensible and cannot be ignored by the civilized world." At first, political pundits were unsure of what exactly Trump's next steps would be. On the campaign trail, he often had criticized rash US military action and signaled for closer relations with Russia, who is allied with the Syrian Government. But on Thursday, April 6, 2017, Donald Trump became President Trump, ordering the launch of 59 Tomahawk Missiles from the USS Ross and USS Porter. This attack struck the Shayrat Airfield, the same location used by Syrian Government to carry out the heinous chemical weapon attack. 58 of the 59 missiles hit their targets, taking out more than 20 Syrian fighter jets, and “almost completely destroyed” the airfield.
There was a time not too long ago that the very thought of Donald Trump ordering the launch of 59 Tomahawk Missiles would keep me up at night, and I am still not too comfortable with that idea. However, in his actions, President Trump has made a bold statement not just to Assad and Putin, but to the international community as a whole.
The first signal that President Trump's action sends is that the United States will follow through on its promises of red lines. By showing the world early on in his presidency that he will not tolerate atrocities like the one in Syria, the President has put a lot of America's enemies on notice. Assad will certainly think twice before using chemical weapons again, and rogue states such as North Korea know that the United States will not tolerate their nuclear weapons program. Furthermore, our allies can be reassured about what we stand up for, and that we will have their backs in the event of an attack. The message of using the United States Military, the greatest fighting force in the history of the world, as a means for peace and good is a story that the US has been attempting to tell for decades. By ordering this strike in response to heinous crimes such as those committed by the Syrian Government, President Trump showed that he is willing to build a foreign policy on these beliefs. The action was similar to that which Secretary Clinton had recommended taking several hours before the actual strike, showing that both major political parties believed that strong action was in the United State’s national interest. Trump’s military action has been met by praise from our allies around the world, for the first time in his presidency, rallying the international community around the United States.
Secondly, the way in which President Trump handled himself during the process of this is something that we have not seen before. There were no offensive tweets, no ad-libbed speeches bashing one target or another, and no obscene action that would jeopardize our relationship with our allies and harm our standing in the international community. While the action may strain US relations with Russia, President Trump gave the Russian Government a head up before the strike to make sure that it would not cause an international incident. After ordering the strike, the president stood behind the presidential seal and read a carefully prepared speech outlining how the United States would not tolerate the use of chemical weapons and was willing to take actions to enforce this belief.
Maybe this is simply a frozen moment in time, and Donald Trump will tweet out something mocking his next target tomorrow morning. Or maybe, just maybe, this is the start of a more professional, put together, presidential, President Trump. Whether this is a temporary or permanent change remains to be seen. One thing is for certain: when Donald Trump ordered that military action and stood behind the presidential seal to address the nation, he was for the very first time, President Trump. By taking this action, President Trump has, for perhaps just a moment, shown the world that he is indeed the leader of the free world and the President of the United States.