Germans Uneasy About Trump’s Attack on Syria

Commentators don’t oppose the missile strikes per se but worry the American acted for the wrong reasons.

German chancellor Angela Merkel speaks with American president Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, March 17
German chancellor Angela Merkel speaks with American president Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, March 17 (Bundesregierung)

Germans are uneasy about Donald Trump’s attack on Syria.

Chancellor Angela Merkel released a joint statement with her French counterpart, François Hollande, laying the blame squarely on the regime of Bashar al-Assad, which is accused of using sarin gas against civilians.

But commentators are less sure lobbing dozens of cruise missiles at a Syrian air base was the proper response.

Mood and instinct

Roland Nelles writes for Der Spiegel that the real test of the American president’s resolve will come if Assad and his allies in Moscow and Tehran do not back down:

They might even seek to test Trump to see how far he is willing to go — by, for example, making new weapons deliveries to Assad or increasing the number of “military advisors” in the country.

Then what will the United States do?

It would be reassuring in such a scenario if the man sitting in the Oval Office was more levelheaded.

“Unfortunately, though, it is Donald Trump,” writes Nelles, “and he hasn’t thus far given any indication that he is able to develop an intelligent, coherent and rigorous strategy.”

Experience shows that cool calculation is not one of his strengths. Rather, he is more influenced by mood and instinct — and by his overwhelming need to be popular.

Andreas Ross similarly writes for the liberal Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that Friday morning’s attack may help Trump more (politically) than it does Syria.

Berthold Kohler argues in the same newspaper that “pushing the launch button is not a strategy.”

Television presidency

Hans Monath worries that Trump makes life-and-death decisions based on what he sees on television. He writes in Der Tagesspiegel:

It are the TV pictures of Syrian children killed by gas that have shaken him and the world. He responds in a way that his voters understand instinctively: with TV pictures of Tomahawk missiles.

Whether or not it does the Syrian people much good is doubtful.

Message to Moscow

Die Welt is more positive. Jacques Schuster writes for the conservative daily that Trump has turned out to be more of a pragmatist than many expected and that America is still the only game in town.

Trump also sent a message to Moscow, he argues:

With his airstrike, the American president makes clear to Vladimir Putin that, unlike his predecessor, he will not only speak aimlessly but act.