Donald Trump's new approach to Syria bears little resemblance
to his position from a few days ago, last week, last year, or even four years ago. By way of an explanation, the White House points to Bashar al-Assad's brutal chemical attack on Tuesday, which NBC News reports
killed at least 100 people -- including 25 children -- and injured 400 others.
In other words, the president's military response last night has a humanitarian motivation: Syria's regime is responsible for a deadly atrocity, the argument goes, and the United States felt it was necessary to respond. The New York Times
published a headline (which has since been changed) that told readers
, "On Syria Attack, Trump's Heart Came First."
This is an incredibly
generous interpretation of yesterday's developments, based on nothing but Trump's rhetoric. We're to believe the president, moved by compassion and sympathy for Assad's victims, struck at Syria as an expression of American disgust.
But what's often overlooked is the range of options available to the administration -- some through the military, some not -- which the president can take full advantage of in pursuit for a moral policy. Vox's Dylan Matthews had a good piece
along these lines last night, noting Trump's efforts to block Syrian refugees -- the people fleeing the bloodshed that apparently moved the president to action -- from seeking safe harbor in the United States.
Expanding refugee resettlement would certainly work, would carry little in the way of short-term financial costs, and that would likely provide a powerful boost to the US economy and drastically increase the living standards of Syrians who were able to relocate. Instead, Trump has sought to slash the number of Syrians allowed to come to the US -- while dropping bombs on Syria itself.