Jen Psaki: When planning military action, Obama used to ask question: Then what? One hopes Trump thought of this before ordering Syria strikes
She says the American people deserve to know what they are signing up for, whether this quick decision is good for the United States
Editor’s Note: Jen Psaki, a CNN political commentator and spring fellow at the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service, served as the White House communications director and State Department spokeswoman during the Obama administration. Follow her: @jrpsaki. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.
The question President Obama often asked his national security team was: Then what?
He wanted to know what the plan was for the days and weeks after military action, what the costs and consequences would be and whether our objective would be met – not just that day, but over the longer term.
I hope that question was asked tonight before President Donald Trump ordered an American missile strike on a Syrian air base in response to Syria’s chemical weapons attack this week. It is indisputable that the chemical weapons attack was horrific. The images – of a man holding his dead twins, of children struggling for air – is haunting.
And it may have awakened Donald Trump to what Bashar al-Assad is capable of – something we knew too well in the Obama administration.
Taking targeted military action this evening is a step that probably felt powerful to Trump. It shows action. It shows force. It shows military strength.
The problem remains: What is next? Syria is led by a brutal dictator who is guilty of war crimes. But it is also a sovereign country with powerful friends, including Russia and Iran.
Trump acted without consulting Congress, without clear legal authority and without any coordinated military action by our partners and allies. President Obama did not move forward in 2013, even after stating that Syria using chemical weapons would cross a red line, without the support of Congress and the international community.
Friday morning, we are still learning about the specific impact on the ground – whether there was collateral damage, that is, innocent lives lost – and whether all of the targets were hit. We don’t know how many more military strikes are planned. Nor are we likely to know in advance.
Views on the US strike in Syria
- Amanpour: Trump's red-line test
- Some Syrians welcome Trump's airstrike
- Psaki: What is America signing on for in Syria?
- Bergen: Trump's attack on Syria -- now what?
- Miller: Why did Trump strike Syria?
- Paton Walsh: Five big risks after Syria strike
- Robertson: Trump's defining moment
- The questions Trump needs to answer
But one thing seems clear. We are going it alone.
The United States military is second to none. It effectively implemented the decision of the commander in chief. But changing the calculus on the ground in Syria will require more than military force. Is there a diplomatic plan? Is there a line of contact with the Russians about the role they can play? How will the strikes translate into a change in Assad’s behavior?
The American people deserve to know what they are signing up for. It was surprising that Trump did not use his remarks Thursday night to speak directly to the American people, delivering his comments instead to reporters at Mar-a-Lago. But he will have to address the American people in the coming days if the US military makes additional strikes.
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We know from all too recent history that military engagement can be a slippery slope. Is this part of a long-term military effort? Are we considering boots on the ground targeted at Assad? Do we have any concern about retaliation from the Syrian military, or even the Russians or Iranians?
Governing is about not just quick decision-making, but about making decisions that are in the interests of the American people over the long term. And while the military and military action should not be a partisan issue, there are questions that both supporters and opponents of Trump deserve answers to in the coming days.