Derek Chollet, who served from 2012 to 2015 as assistant secretry of defense for international security affairs, has a nuanced view of the Tomahawk missile attack on a Syrian air base ordered last week by President Trump. While recognizing this may not represent "a dramatic change in adminstration policy," he told Slate
If the intent is not to end the civil war or remove Assad but rather to dissuade Assad from using chemical weapons again, it absolutely could succeed. This was part of my frustration with Obama's "red line" remark. What people failed to recognize is that that ultimately led to the peaceful removal, with the help of Russia, of 1300 tons of chemical weapons, which I don't think could have been accomplished with the use of force.
This situation is different, but if this isolated attack deters Assad in the future, it's a success, even if it does nothing to end the broader conflict.
Former Secretary of State John Kerry- not even bothering to defend his former boss- appears to have a less nuanced, more common, view. Citing a source "close to the former diplomat," Politico writes Kerry "was 'absolutely supportive of Trump’s strike and “gratified to see that it happened quickly.'”
Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware termed the attack "appropriate," though adding
This is not the time to significantly cut our investment in diplomacy and development and humanitarian aid. Because navigating through the very complex crises in Syria and Iraq is going to be difficult and expensive. If we're not prepared for a diplomatic solution and a development solution, once we retake [the] cities of Mosul and Raqqa, then we’re simply going to repeat some of the mistakes of the past.
The moderate view that a quick, limited attack to deter Bashar al-Assad from presiding over another chemical weapons attack carries more benefits than risks overlooks two critical elements of the President's action. Whatever the Administration's future course in the region, the action will inevitably be only a small part of an overall strategy. And that strategy will be carried out by one Donald J. Trump, whose sympathy for Syrian children does not extend to the ones who seek refuge in the land of the free and home of the brave.
That is no small matter because Donald Trump is a character unlike any other, with a character unlike any other. The day after the airbase was hit, David Frum explained
Every decision presents risks and costs, and any responsible decision maker insists on a detailed itemization of those risks and those costs. That cannot have happened here. Trump has walked into a military confrontation that implicates regional and global security with only the haziest notion of what might go wrong. One friend of mine has warned: “If it were good foreign policy, Trump wouldn’t be doing it.” Foreign policy is hard, and even the best process does not guarantee good outcomes. Sometimes you get lucky, and can escape the consequences of a bad process. But the odds are the odds. Ninety-nine times out of one hundred, bad processes lead to ugly results.
Chollet, Kerry, and Coons and uber hawks such as Senators Graham and McCain and former Representative (D-CA) Jane Harman have endorsed, to one degree or another, Donald Trump's first military action in the Middle East. Recognizing the prevalence of that perspective among critics of Trump, Matthew Yglesias-less gentlemanly than Frum- tweets, "Trump is an unstable, ignorant, madman with no regard for democracy but I'm glad he's shooting missiles' is a bizarrely popular take."