On Tuesday this week, at least one bomb was dropped on the northwestern Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun in the Idlib Governorate, an area believed to oppose the regime of dictator Bashar Al Assad. Medical personnel believe the roughly seventy people who died shortly after the hit suffered symptoms similar to those caused by Sarin gas. The Syrian army has denied involvement, and Russian claims that the hit was on a chemical weapons factory or warehouse have been dismissed.
Naturally, a bunch of politicians from around the globe jumped in front of cameras, and “strongly condemned” the use of chemical weapons. Words are good but, most of the time, no good action follows.
In typical form, the Syrian government said it’s not going to cooperate fully on any international investigation.
The Syrian government set conditions on Thursday for any international inquiry into a suspected chemical attack that killed scores of people, saying it must not be “politicized” and should set out from Damascus and not Turkey.
Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said Syria’s past experience with international inquiries had not been encouraging. The government would only decide on the idea once its concerns were addressed, he said.
Moualem also reiterated the government’s strong denial that it was behind the attack on Tuesday in Khan Sheikhoun in the northwestern province of Idlib, an area mostly controlled by rebel groups at the border with Turkey.
U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday said President Bashar al-Assad’s government had gone “beyond a red line” and said his attitude toward Syria and Assad had changed. But he gave no indication of how he would respond.
As it turns out, Trump’s “response” was pretty much already airborne: Roughly sixty Tomahawk missiles were fired from the USS Ross and USS Porter, two destroyers sitting in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, at Shayrat Airfield where the attack was said to have originated. As many of you saw, reporters were wetting themselves because, for at least a few days, they could stop talking about the domestic and foreign policy twins known as Javanka (Jared Kushner and Ivanka).
So, a thumbs up for President Trump, who didn’t telegraph this decisive action. But also, a warning: What now? As David French points out, there’s more to this area than a few bombs can resolve:
As we confront the Assad regime’s gas attack — which is just one of its countless violations of the law of war, and hardly its most deadly — we also have to confront this core reality: Our leading geopolitical rival — a traditional great power and a nuclear superpower — has quite obviously decided that the survival of a friendly regime in Damascus is a core national interest. It acted decisively while we dithered, and it has boots on the ground.
Thus, we now face a quandary. Retaliate against Syria so strongly that it truly punishes and weakens Assad, and you risk threatening Russia’s vital interests. Respond with a pinprick strike that Russia effectively “permits,” and you do nothing important. Assad has demonstrated that he cares little about his own casualties and may (like many other American enemies before him) actually feel emboldened after “surviving” an American strike.
Yes, deposing a dictator – if that’s our end game — has consequences. In the past few decades we’ve seen what happens when we whack a mole and have another, less-evil-but-still-evil mole pop up. But to blanket the issue with an “It’s bad. Don’t do that” edict is shortsighted, immoral, and puts our national security at risk.
Here’s our military strategy: We use the best method to get the job done in the quickest way possible. If that means large numbers of boots on the ground, as harsh as it sounds, we do not leave the area. See Europe, Japan, and South Korea as examples of what happens when Americans stick around.
As cold hearted as they are, it seems logical that Putin and Mother Russia don’t want the world to brand them with “we’re cool with gassing children” painted on their backs. Those optics are bad for them on the world stage, and could hurt them economically.
God bless our next moves. We’re going to need the help.
Image: By U.S. Navy, Author unknown or not specified – U.S. Navy NewsStand photo ID 021110-N-0000X-001U.S. Navy NewsStand, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3740974