What a week. Whew! Where do I start. We start with March-Madness Monday when the North Carolina Tar Heels dismantled the Gonzaga Bulldogs, a team on the come-up that previously loss only one game all season prior to falling to North Carolina in the finals. Congrats to the National Champion Tar Heels. The calendar for the rest of the week appeared benign: the Masters at Augusta and China President Xi Jingping’s visit with President Trump at Mar-A-Lago.
This week was anything but routine, starting with a report that the world’s #1 ranked PGA golfer, Dustin Johnson injured his lower back after freakishly falling down a stairwell at his Augusta rental home, forcing him to withdraw. Then out of nowhere - tornado storms assaulted the South-East US, from Georgia to Indiana, causing major damages in some areas.
This week really got interesting after the Syrian air force unleashed a sarin nerve agent chemical attack on the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun, killing dozens, including children. The media showed heart-wrenching hard-to-watch images of affected children suffering from the chemical attack. Trump was shown to be visibly affected during an interview, vowing that “something had to be done”.
Then events for the week took off like a missile - 59 tomahawk cruise missiles to be exact. It was a precise strike that destroyed Syrian aircraft and killed about a dozen people. LET ME SAY PLAINLY - this was the right thing to do. To Trump’s credit he decisively made the proper military response to a heinous act. This was clearly a much-needed win for Trump after suffering a damaging defeat on the failed American Health Care Bill, enduring a persistent FBI investigation of alleged campaign links to Russia and struggling to garner support for his dubious wire-tapping claims that were kept on life-support via a charade of evidence discovery perpetrated by Representative Devin Nunes who has since recused himself. The strike however initially appeared to have bipartisan support, although Trump faced opposition from former Democratic Vice Presidential Candidate Senator Tim Kaine and Representative Tulsi Gabbard - who questioned the legality of Trump’s strike order. Stay tuned.
While all of this was taking place, the Republican party went “nuclear”, changing the senate confirmation rules from a required 60 vote majority to 51, to finally confirm Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Also, Trump completed his meeting with President Xi at Mar-A-Lago, which understandably received limited coverage. An action-packed week.
Although the military strike casts Trump in a positive light and distracts us from the negative media stories, the next steps are critical. Our options include, letting the strike stand on its own, to removing Al-Assad from power; and everything in between. However, history teaches us that removing strong men from power often results in de-stabilizing the region e.g. Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya all became failed states. Terrorist groups (ISIS, Al Qaeda) are all too ready to fill power vacuums that usually become fertile recruiting grounds for jihadists. Colon Powell articulated this deadly cycle well - “we break it - we own it”.
Syria is quite complicated, backed by both Russia and Iran. Recent reports suggested that Russia, who previously agreed to enforce the removal of chemical weapons from Syria after the 2013 attacks, may be complicit with Syria’s chemical attack this week. To complicate the situation, a weakened Syria could embolden ISIS. There are so many possible scenarios - thus immense uncertainty. It will be interesting to see how Russia and Iran respond. The ball is in their court if we decide to let the dust settle. Trump has demonstrated as President that he is comfortable with and prepared to use military force as diplomacy. His recent display of US power can also be used as leverage with China to influence North Korea. Oh yeah - we cannot forget about North Korea, the most imminent nuclear threat to the US given Kim Jong-un’s recent posturing and missile testing activity. This very warning was conveyed to Trump by Obama during the White House transition.
Lastly, Trump gets credit for surrounding himself with excellent military advisors. His selections of former Marine Corps General James Mattis as Secretary of Defense and Army General H.R. McMaster as the National Security Advisor are superb choices. Trump lucked out having to fire General Flynn as McMaster is much more capable in that role. Let’s see what happens from here on. Stay tuned.