'America is back': John Baird says strike on Syria crucial in sending message

Former Conservative foreign affairs minister John Baird, who had to grapple with the onset of the Syrian civil war while in Stephen Harper's government, says he hopes the overdue missile strike against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime will act as a one-time deterrent against future chemical warfare.

President Donald Trump authorized the launch of 59 cruise missiles, fired from warships in the eastern Mediterranean, early Friday morning. The target was the Shayrat airbase in western Syria, which U.S. officials say Syrian forces used to launch a chemical weapons strike earlier this week, killing more than 80 people.

"This should not be seen as an attempt to solve peace or to resolve the conflict — it's to send a message. Its one purpose is to send a message, 'Don't try this again,'"  Baird told CBC Radio's The House hosted by Chris Hall.

"The actions that the president has taken send a clear message to friend and foe alike that America is back and they will take strong leadership when warranted."

Baird, who served as Canada's minister of foreign affairs from 2011 to 2015 before stepping down from cabinet, said the suffering chemical weapons inflicts on civilians requires more than just condemnation.

"[Barack] Obama should have done this back in 2012 and then Assad would have learned his lesson, but he drew a red line and it was crossed and Assad realized he could get away with it and I think Trump has done the right thing."

Canada's response 'wise'

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government was briefed in advance of the U.S. missile strikes and said Canada "fully supports the United States' limited, focused actions to degrade the Assad regime's ability to launch such attacks." Baird said that response deserves congratulations.

"I think it was a wise decision…Obviously the prime minister is more of a pacifist, this is not something that obviously he would have engaged Canada in, but I think it's important he signalled support to our closest friend and ally," he said.

"Trudeau's comment on limited is important. I mean he can't do this every night for a month or something like that because that will be a military effort, a foreign-imposed military effort through a regime change, which has not been successful in this region."

The attack has also called into question the relationship between the U.S. and Russia. Russia's deputy United Nations envoy condemned "illegitimate" U.S. strikes in Syria and said the consequences for regional and international stability could be extremely serious.

Baird, now an adviser with law firm Bennett Jones, said while he agrees with Trump's move, he's not a supporter of the president. The missile attack shouldn't distract from the serious allegations that Russia interfered in the U.S. election, he said.

"Obviously no one wants to have a foreign country intervene, let alone determine the victor, of their democratic elections." he said.