Did Trump Actually Bomb Syria and ISIS to Send a Message to China and North Korea?

On April 6, 2017, the U.S. military bombed a Syrian airbase with 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles. The official explanation for the bombing was that it was done in retaliation for a merciless chemical weapons attack by Bashar al-Assad (President/Dictator of Syria) that killed more than 80 civilians.

This decision was in stark contrast to Trump’s previous policy and rhetoric towards foreign affairs in Syria. Besides signing an executive order banning Syrian refugees from entering the United States, Trump has also publicly commented on how the U.S. should stay out of Syria.

Series of Donald Trump Tweets on Syria

A week later, on April 13, the U.S. military dropped America’s most powerful non-nuclear bomb on ISIS targets in Afghanistan. While these actions are is in line with Trump’s campaign promise to “quickly and decisively bomb the hell out of ISIS,” the use of the Massive Ordinance Air Blast bomb (MOAB), nicknamed the “mother of all bombs,” is an interesting choice.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer explained that the strike “targeted a system of tunnels and cave that ISIS fighters use to move around freely.” But even though the MOAB is incredibly destructive, bombs that are used to target tunnel complexes and personnel are typically reserved for “bunker busters,” which are designed to penetrate deep underground.

As Carl Higbie, a former Navy SEAL, told Fox News, “there are much better munitions we could have used to solve this tunnel problem. We have penetrating munitions that can go down and blow things up.”

So what do these bombings mean, and is there a bigger picture behind the recent military strikes and ongoing conflict with North Korea?

How the Bombings Correspond With Political Events

Since 2006, when North Korea conducted its first nuclear test, tensions have escalated with the Hermit Kingdom. These tensions have been bolstered by North Korea’s additional nuclear tests in 2009, 2013 and two more in 2016, other ballistic missile launches, and continued threats against South Korea and the United States.

Since Donald Trump became president in 2017, North Korea has increased hostilities by launching an intermediate-range Pukguksong-2 ballistic missile on February 12 and four ballistic missiles—three of which fell into Japan’s exclusive economic zone—on March 6. Intelligence officials and other experts also believe that North Korea is preparing for a sixth nuclear test.

A Complex Relationship: United States, China and North Korea

The April 6, Syrian airbase bombings occurred in the midst of Trump’s meeting with President Xi Jinping of China. In fact, Trump commented that he informed the Chinese president that he had launched missile strikes on Syria as the two ate dessert at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

China is North Korea’s most important ally, its biggest trade partner, and a major source of food and energy for the Hermit Kingdom. While their relationship may best be described as strained, especially since the country has become even more unpredictable since Kim Jong-un took power in 2011, China acts as an intermediary between North Korea and the world and still uses its power to limit punitive actions against its ally.

However, China and the United States have two very different ideas of how to deal with North Korea and its ongoing bellicose threats against America and South Korea, which include the use of nuclear weapons.

It is in China’s best interest to maintain stability in this region and urges diplomacy and a more passive approach. North Korea provides a “communist” ally on its northeastern border while acting as a buffer between the democratic South Korea, which is a close ally of the United States that also has nearly 30,000 American troops stationed in the country. It’s worth noting, too, that the 1961 Sino-North Korean Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance obligates China to defend North Korea against unprovoked aggression.

The United States has been much more adamant about forcing North Korea to give up its nuclear weapon program, missile tests and belligerent threats in return for aid, diplomatic benefits and better relations. The U.S. has enacted sanctions and used other pressure tactics in an attempt to change its quarrelsome behavior.

The timing of the Syria bombings is pretty remarkable considering that it occurred the first day of President Xi Jinping’s two-day visit with President Trump in the United States. With China accounting for around 90% of North Korea’s trade volume in recent years, as well as maintaining strong ties with the country, it has the greatest ability to help persuade the Hermit Kingdom’s actions—even if Kim Jong-un has been less than willing to listen to his most important ally.

The Syria bombing certainly appears to be a message to China and North Korea. It seems to say that the United States is prepared to take military action—even if it hasn’t in the past—if a country goes too far. This can be inferred by Trump’s surprise decision to intervene in Syria after the apparent chemical attack on civilians.

It encourages China to become more involved in the efforts to rein in North Korea for fear of the United States taking more direct action. China does not want a military conflict between North Korea and the U.S., and if China thinks that the U.S. is willing to escalate the conflict then they may be more inclined to work with Trump and take a tougher position on North Korea to try and avoid any actions that will destabilize the region.

Warships, Tweets and “Mother of All Bombs”

Soon after the Syria bombing, the Navy announced that President Trump had sent a fleet of U.S. warships toward the Korean peninsula. While this show of force has been a common occurrence in the past, sending the warships right after the airstrike in Syria is in no way a coincidence. The timing of events seems very much an orchestrated political message.

President Trump more directly expressed his message to China and North Korea when he tweeted on April 11: “North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them! U.S.A”

Donald Trump Tweet About China and North Korea

Two days later, the U.S. military used the “mother of all bombs” against ISIS in Afghanistan. The use of such a powerful bomb—although an arguably inappropriate weapon for its target—appears to be more of a message in the ongoing political conflict with North Korea than a way to effectively combat ISIS.

This idea is only bolstered when you look at how the U.S. Air Force dropped over 450 bombs in the country from January to March 2017 while fighting ISIS, none of which involved the MOAB.

When asked about using the MOAB, John Ismay, a senior crisis advisor at Amnesty International and former Explosive Ordnance Officer in the Navy, stated, “I’m guessing somebody wanted to make a statement by using it. Unless Central Command or the White House can prove otherwise, from everything that’s come out so far, there doesn’t appear to be any particular reason why you had to use the MOAB.”

And if you keep in mind the upcoming event in North Korea only two days later, using the MOAB against ISIS looks increasingly more like a well-timed message about the strength and power of the U.S. military.

“Day of the Sun” Parade, Ballistic Missile Launch and Mike Pence Visits South Korea

North Korea’s annual “Day of the Sun” parade, which commemorates its founder and former leader Kim Il-sung (Kim Jong-un’s grandfather), takes place on April 15 of every year. It is not just a celebration of its founder, it is as a way for North Korea to display its military power.

As a follow-up to its military parade, which included the apparent display of two new ICBM missiles, North Korea attempted to launch another ballistic missile; however, reports state that it failed.

Vice President Pence visited South Korea the following day on April 16. The trip was planned to coincide with the Day of the Sun parade as a show of solidarity with South Korea and to continue reinforcing the United States’ message to its allies and North Korea. As Mike Pence explained that the United States would try to achieve security “through peaceable means, through negotiations” but that “all options are on the table.”

Trump’s Message and Potential Political Strategy for North Korea

Reviewing the events that took place after April 6, it seems more and more apparent that the bombings in Syria and Afghanistan were—at least in part—directed toward China and North Korea as Trump and his administration tackle the ever growing concern with the Hermit Kingdom.

Donald Trump has been clear that he wants to assert America’s military dominance, including a proposed $52 billion budget increase, and he has recently put that show of force on display for North Korea and the rest of the world.

But in all likelihood, this is meant as political posturing to help influence China’s cooperation in dealing with North Korea as well as a signal to Kim Jong-un that Trump is not taking Obama’s approach to “strategic patience” with the country.

This idea of Trump using the bombings and U.S. military might as a “peacocking approach” with North Korea seems likely. And after a May 1 interview with Bloomberg News, where he changed his tone by saying he would be “honored” to meet up with Kim Jong-un under the right circumstances, this could very well be his initial strategy with North Korea.

Then again, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un are two leaders with two of the largest armies in the world. And with both, it’s impossible to tell exactly what they will do.

Experienced in digital marketing, branding, content development and search engine optimization (SEO). I have a B.A. from UC Davis in Economics (French minor), I am a member of the Cal Aggie Alumni Association and I am a Beta Epsilon alumni. I have a broad range of interests that include playing jazz piano, reading, writing, learning about history, eating good food (my grandma's gnocchi is a favorite) and traveling.

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Did Trump Actually Bomb Syria and ISIS to Send a Message to China and North Korea?

On April 6, 2017, the U.S. military bombed a Syrian airbase with 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles. The official explanation for the bombing was that it was done in retaliation for a merciless chemical weapons attack by Bashar al-Assad (President/Dictator of Syria) that killed more than 80 civilians.

This decision was in stark contrast to Trump’s previous policy and rhetoric towards foreign affairs in Syria. Besides signing an executive order banning Syrian refugees from entering the United States, Trump has also publicly commented on how the U.S. should stay out of Syria.

Series of Donald Trump Tweets on Syria

A week later, on April 13, the U.S. military dropped America’s most powerful non-nuclear bomb on ISIS targets in Afghanistan. While these actions are is in line with Trump’s campaign promise to “quickly and decisively bomb the hell out of ISIS,” the use of the Massive Ordinance Air Blast bomb (MOAB), nicknamed the “mother of all bombs,” is an interesting choice.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer explained that the strike “targeted a system of tunnels and cave that ISIS fighters use to move around freely.” But even though the MOAB is incredibly destructive, bombs that are used to target tunnel complexes and personnel are typically reserved for “bunker busters,” which are designed to penetrate deep underground.

As Carl Higbie, a former Navy SEAL, told Fox News, “there are much better munitions we could have used to solve this tunnel problem. We have penetrating munitions that can go down and blow things up.”

So what do these bombings mean, and is there a bigger picture behind the recent military strikes and ongoing conflict with North Korea?

How the Bombings Correspond With Political Events

Since 2006, when North Korea conducted its first nuclear test, tensions have escalated with the Hermit Kingdom. These tensions have been bolstered by North Korea’s additional nuclear tests in 2009, 2013 and two more in 2016, other ballistic missile launches, and continued threats against South Korea and the United States.

Since Donald Trump became president in 2017, North Korea has increased hostilities by launching an intermediate-range Pukguksong-2 ballistic missile on February 12 and four ballistic missiles—three of which fell into Japan’s exclusive economic zone—on March 6. Intelligence officials and other experts also believe that North Korea is preparing for a sixth nuclear test.

A Complex Relationship: United States, China and North Korea

The April 6, Syrian airbase bombings occurred in the midst of Trump’s meeting with President Xi Jinping of China. In fact, Trump commented that he informed the Chinese president that he had launched missile strikes on Syria as the two ate dessert at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

China is North Korea’s most important ally, its biggest trade partner, and a major source of food and energy for the Hermit Kingdom. While their relationship may best be described as strained, especially since the country has become even more unpredictable since Kim Jong-un took power in 2011, China acts as an intermediary between North Korea and the world and still uses its power to limit punitive actions against its ally.

However, China and the United States have two very different ideas of how to deal with North Korea and its ongoing bellicose threats against America and South Korea, which include the use of nuclear weapons.

It is in China’s best interest to maintain stability in this region and urges diplomacy and a more passive approach. North Korea provides a “communist” ally on its northeastern border while acting as a buffer between the democratic South Korea, which is a close ally of the United States that also has nearly 30,000 American troops stationed in the country. It’s worth noting, too, that the 1961 Sino-North Korean Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance obligates China to defend North Korea against unprovoked aggression.

The United States has been much more adamant about forcing North Korea to give up its nuclear weapon program, missile tests and belligerent threats in return for aid, diplomatic benefits and better relations. The U.S. has enacted sanctions and used other pressure tactics in an attempt to change its quarrelsome behavior.

The timing of the Syria bombings is pretty remarkable considering that it occurred the first day of President Xi Jinping’s two-day visit with President Trump in the United States. With China accounting for around 90% of North Korea’s trade volume in recent years, as well as maintaining strong ties with the country, it has the greatest ability to help persuade the Hermit Kingdom’s actions—even if Kim Jong-un has been less than willing to listen to his most important ally.

The Syria bombing certainly appears to be a message to China and North Korea. It seems to say that the United States is prepared to take military action—even if it hasn’t in the past—if a country goes too far. This can be inferred by Trump’s surprise decision to intervene in Syria after the apparent chemical attack on civilians.

It encourages China to become more involved in the efforts to rein in North Korea for fear of the United States taking more direct action. China does not want a military conflict between North Korea and the U.S., and if China thinks that the U.S. is willing to escalate the conflict then they may be more inclined to work with Trump and take a tougher position on North Korea to try and avoid any actions that will destabilize the region.

Warships, Tweets and “Mother of All Bombs”

Soon after the Syria bombing, the Navy announced that President Trump had sent a fleet of U.S. warships toward the Korean peninsula. While this show of force has been a common occurrence in the past, sending the warships right after the airstrike in Syria is in no way a coincidence. The timing of events seems very much an orchestrated political message.

President Trump more directly expressed his message to China and North Korea when he tweeted on April 11: “North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them! U.S.A”

Donald Trump Tweet About China and North Korea

Two days later, the U.S. military used the “mother of all bombs” against ISIS in Afghanistan. The use of such a powerful bomb—although an arguably inappropriate weapon for its target—appears to be more of a message in the ongoing political conflict with North Korea than a way to effectively combat ISIS.

This idea is only bolstered when you look at how the U.S. Air Force dropped over 450 bombs in the country from January to March 2017 while fighting ISIS, none of which involved the MOAB.

When asked about using the MOAB, John Ismay, a senior crisis advisor at Amnesty International and former Explosive Ordnance Officer in the Navy, stated, “I’m guessing somebody wanted to make a statement by using it. Unless Central Command or the White House can prove otherwise, from everything that’s come out so far, there doesn’t appear to be any particular reason why you had to use the MOAB.”

And if you keep in mind the upcoming event in North Korea only two days later, using the MOAB against ISIS looks increasingly more like a well-timed message about the strength and power of the U.S. military.

“Day of the Sun” Parade, Ballistic Missile Launch and Mike Pence Visits South Korea

North Korea’s annual “Day of the Sun” parade, which commemorates its founder and former leader Kim Il-sung (Kim Jong-un’s grandfather), takes place on April 15 of every year. It is not just a celebration of its founder, it is as a way for North Korea to display its military power.

As a follow-up to its military parade, which included the apparent display of two new ICBM missiles, North Korea attempted to launch another ballistic missile; however, reports state that it failed.

Vice President Pence visited South Korea the following day on April 16. The trip was planned to coincide with the Day of the Sun parade as a show of solidarity with South Korea and to continue reinforcing the United States’ message to its allies and North Korea. As Mike Pence explained that the United States would try to achieve security “through peaceable means, through negotiations” but that “all options are on the table.”

Trump’s Message and Potential Political Strategy for North Korea

Reviewing the events that took place after April 6, it seems more and more apparent that the bombings in Syria and Afghanistan were—at least in part—directed toward China and North Korea as Trump and his administration tackle the ever growing concern with the Hermit Kingdom.

Donald Trump has been clear that he wants to assert America’s military dominance, including a proposed $52 billion budget increase, and he has recently put that show of force on display for North Korea and the rest of the world.

But in all likelihood, this is meant as political posturing to help influence China’s cooperation in dealing with North Korea as well as a signal to Kim Jong-un that Trump is not taking Obama’s approach to “strategic patience” with the country.

This idea of Trump using the bombings and U.S. military might as a “peacocking approach” with North Korea seems likely. And after a May 1 interview with Bloomberg News, where he changed his tone by saying he would be “honored” to meet up with Kim Jong-un under the right circumstances, this could very well be his initial strategy with North Korea.

Then again, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un are two leaders with two of the largest armies in the world. And with both, it’s impossible to tell exactly what they will do.

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