A Tomahawk cruise missile leaves the guided-missile destroyer USS Porter in the Mediterranean Sea during the strike on Syria. Navy photo
A Tomahawk cruise missile leaves the guided-missile destroyer USS Porter in the Mediterranean Sea during the strike on Syria. Navy photo

By Leonard Novarro

The United States looked the other way, even as a country the size of Russia chose to get involved.

Supporters flocked to both sides, chemicals were used and people gassed, and this Democratic president of the U.S. stood his ground. No intervention.

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Then a single incident abruptly changed the course of history. It was telegram from the German foreign minister offering Mexico military assistance if it tried to take back Texas, Arizona and Nevada that finally got America to intervene in the First World War.

The date the U.S. entered World War I was April 6, 1917, 100 years to the day that President Donald Trump chose to launch a cruise missile attack against a Syrian installation that released chemical weapons against an innocent civilian population, including women, infants and small children.

Two American warships in the Mediterranean launched dozens of Tomahawk cruise missiles that hit the Syrian airstrip and fuel depots involved in the chemical attack. The day before, visibly upset during a press conference, the President said the U.S. will no longer look the other way, as it has been doing for six years while Syria uses chemical weapons against civilians.

This was the first act of direct involvement in the Syrian civil war that Obama religiously avoided.

The chemical strikes by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that killed at least 70 people was the tipping point, and it is likely to put this country in direct conflict with Russia, which has had military personnel advising the Syrian government in its war against rebel forces.

The similarities between 1917 and 2017, then and now, are, at the very least, interesting to compare.

For years, Democratic President Woodrow Wilson had kept the U.S. from getting involved in the worldwide conflict that mainly pitted England, France, Russia — and eventually the U.S. — against Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey. Wilson talked tough, but did not carry the “big stick” his presidential predecessor Teddy Roosevelt did.

The incident that prompted Trump to call for the strike against Syria was not over a seemingly insignificant incident, like the telegram, however. Gassing innocent women and children is cowardly.

And while it may not have been enough to inflame the American public this week, it certainly inflamed this President.

Although Trump has urged better relations with Russia, shortly after he saw photographic evidence of the attack, he publicly stated that this country would no longer stand  by as it has been doing for years, even at the expense of alienating Russia.

“Years of previous attempts at changing (Syrian President) Assad’s behavior have all failed and failed very dramatically,” said Trump when announcing the attack Thursday, adding, “We are prepared to do more.”

While this is not a harbinger of a greater conflict, major historians predict that the next great global conflict will originate in the Middle East, where sides already are taking shape. While Iran has joined Syria and Russia in condemning the attack, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Turkey have supported the U.S.

Coincidentally, the direct military action was ordered at the very time the president of China, Xi Jinping, was being entertained at the Trump Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.  Trump chose to address the media immediately after dining with the Chinese leader, who had traveled to meet with Trump over trade differences and recent threats by North Korea to develop nuclear weapons. Trump has said if China fails to exert influence on North Korea, the U.S. will act on its own.

If there’s anything we should expect from this president, it is to expect the expected.

Leonard Novarro is co-founder of Asia Media America and the Asian Heritage Society. He is a frequent contributor to Times of San Diego.