All things considered, Trump got this exactly right.
The US, UK and France attacked three government sites, targeting what they said were chemical weapons facilities.
More than 100 missiles struck in response to a suspected deadly chemical attack on the town of Douma last week.
At a Pentagon briefing on Saturday, Lt Gen Kenneth McKenzie listed the three targets that had been struck in a “precise, overwhelming and effective” manner:
- The Barzah chemical weapons research and development centre near Damascus was hit by 76 missiles, 57 of them Tomahawk cruise missiles, and “destroyed”
- The Him Shinshar chemical weapons storage facility near Homs was hit by 22 “weapons” – US, UK and French
- The Him Shinshar chemical weapons bunker facility near Homs was targeted with seven Scout missiles and was “successfully hit”
Gen McKenzie said the “initial indications are that we accomplished the military objectives without interference from Syria”.
The Syrian civil war is highly complex and there are no good options. The world has also returned to a state of Big Power geopolitics and Russia has clearly planted its flag in Syria. The struggle for America is that we have no real national interest in Syria other than to protect our allies in the neighborhood should the war spill over. We do, however, have a moral interest in protecting innocents and a strategic interest in keeping the conflict from spreading.
So what were the options?
- Do nothing
- Launch a ground invasion
- Covert action aimed at regime change
- A measured, surgical, retaliatory strike
There is no appetite in America to get into another war in the Middle East. Plus, launching an invasion in Syria risks escalating into a full scale with Russia. Option 2 is off the table.
Option 3 is interesting, but then what? There are no good sides left in Syria and removing Assad just leaves a vacuum for some other tyrant to fill.
Option 1 is one that I would have been satisfied with. It is difficult for me to justify expending more American treasure and possible lives in the morass of Syria. The downside is that both Obama and Trump promised the world that we would react if Assad used chemical weapons again. To not follow through on a threat would be to weaken America’s stature and ability to influence future events – especially in the face of a tyrant like Putin.
So we are left with option 4. The Trump Administration gathered our allies in France and Britain and stuck at specific targets related to Assad’s ability to conduct chemical warfare. They made it clear that this is not the start of a larger conflict and it is not designed to change the regime. It was just a hard spank from the Western Powers to make it clear that using weapons of mass destruction to kill innocent people is not acceptable. This approach also has the added advantage of dispelling the myth of Russia’s impenetrable air defenses. Perhaps Assad will be having a chat with Putin about this technological failure.
Again, there are not any good options left in Syria for America. Any good options evaporated within the first year of the conflict. Now it is just a matter of trying to prevent it from spilling out into the larger world any more than it already has.