The U.S. Just Launched Missiles in Syria Against Assad. What’s Next?
President Trump ordered a military strike in Syria (Thursday, April 6th), launching 50-60 Tomahawk missiles towards an air base said to be responsible for the chemical weapon attacks that killed more than 80 people earlier this week.
“Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the air base in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched. It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.”
The strike was aimed at Syrian fighter jets and infrastructure, but did not target objects that might have had chemical weapons stored. The Pentagon informed Russian military officials through established channels before launch to avoid potential collateral damage, but not to ask for permission. CNN is reporting that there were Russians at the base, but that it was unclear what their role was. It’s being said that Russians alerted Syrians of the attack, but this has not been confirmed at this time.
Concerning engagement, it is said that this was on the “limited” end of options presented to Trump by Defense Secretary Mattis, but it is clear (in both action and the subsequent remarks by President Trump) that this strike was intended to send a message to the Assad regime. The message being that chemical weapons will not be tolerated by this administration.
The Syrian State Agency SANA claims that the missiles killed 9 civilians (including 4 children). A surprising claim, considering the target was a military airbase in the middle of the night. Vladimir Putin has called the airstrikes an “illegal act of aggression”, based on a “made-up pretext” designed to distract the world from civilian deaths in Iraq (indicated by Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov). Putin has suspended a deal to avoid mid-air clashes with American fighter jets and warned of grave damage between Washington and Moscow. Earlier this morning, he diverted a warship to protect the Syrian coast and vowed to increase Bashar al-Assad’s military and missile defenses, making many fearful that this conflict spills over into a war between Russia and the West.
The situation in Syria is complicated… and that would be the nice way to put it. The war against ISIS has put America in a precarious position. On the one hand, we can’t condone Assad’s brutal actions. On the other hand, the rivaling point of power is ISIS (obviously not a palatable option). Obama chose to ride the “red line,” hoping for a political resolution at some point. It’s clear that Trump is going to take a different approach. What’s not immediately clear is if it will work.
America doesn’t have an inspiring record of overthrowing power and installing democracy in the region. In reality, it’s hard to ignore the fact that things might very well be getting worse with each attempt. I applaud the idea that America stands up for helpless Syrians caught in the brutality of crossfire, but what’s next without someone to take the lead? When all options are bad options, what do you do?
More as developments come in…