The smoke has cleared and the world is coming to grips with the fact that Donald Trump ordered two of our Navy’s ships to unleash 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles on a relatively small Syrian military airbase from which intelligence reports say a recent chemical attack was launched. The first question we should ask is , when did Trump start believing intelligence reports?
Early on most of the signals coming out of the Trump White House indicated that this was a one off, a warning to Basher al-Assad not to use chemical weapons. It least that is what I was lead to believe until I heard Sean Spicer indicate three times in a press conference today that if Assad continued to drop “barrel bombs” on civilians, he could provoke another US military attack. That sounded like Trump has drawn yet another red line in the sand, and it is a red line that much more likely to be crossed than the another use of chemical weapons.
To be clear barrel bombs are crude devices consisting of barrels filled with explosives which Assad’s military has been dropping from helicopters. What is troubling is that the Syrians have been using this tactic on a regular basis on civilian populations thought to be harboring rebel combatants and they are likely to continue to do so. Assad does not have the ground forces necessary to root out rebel forces one city, one town or one hamlet at a time. His strategy has been to terrorize the civilians into turning against the rebels. Both Syrian and Russian aircraft have been also been known to intentionally target hospitals in rebel territory for the same reason. If used again, and they almost certainly will be, both tactics could cross one of Trumps “red lines”.
Okay, most of the country and the rest of the world approved of the cruise missile strike, but what now? What is Trump’s long term strategy? How far is he willing to go before the US is pulled unwillingly into a civil war which is seemingly without end and where there a good possibility of a direct confrontation with Russian forces. How far is Trump willing to go the next time he sees the lifeless bodies of children on TV.
It is pretty clear that Bashar al-Assad was literally thumbing his nose at Trump in defiance by flying aircraft off of the runways of Shayrat Air Base, which was hit by our missiles, to bomb the same area where Syrian aircraft had previously dropped chemical weapons. (Which brings up the question: Why didn’t we use a few of those Tomahawks to crater the runways?) Russia has already suspended communications links between Russian and US forces operating in the crowded skies over Syria making the possibility of an accidential engagement between aircraft of the two sides much more likely. Such an incident could easily lead to even deeper US involvement in the Syrian civil war. Nor do Russian and Iran appear to be backing down from the possibility of another American raid.
A joint statement released Russia and Iranian forces in Syria read: “The United States crossed red lines by attacking Syria, from now on we will respond to anyone, including America if it attacks Syria and crosses the red line. America knows very well our ability and capabilities to respond well to them. We will respond without taking into consideration any reaction and consequences. Rest assured that we will liberate Syria from all kinds of occupying forces; it does not matter from where they came to the occupied part of Syria. Russia and Iran will not allow the United States to be the only superpower in world. We are closely and deeply following American forces’ moves and presence (in Syria) and will consider them an occupying force.”
This apparently a direct threat indicating that if Trump orders another attack on the Syrian military or government positions, American Special Forces working with rebel units operating in North Syrian will be targeted. A direct attack on Americans in Syria would almost certainly result in retributions by American forces which in turn could easily lead to total US involvement in a shooting war.
Nor are the Russians just sitting around waiting for another attack. A statement by he Russian Ministry of Defense reads, “To protect key Syrian infrastructure a range of measures will be taken reinforce and improve the effectiveness of the Syrian armed forces air defenses.” At the same time that statement was issued, a Russian cruise missile frigate, the Admiral Grigorevich, was on route to the Syrian navy base at Tartus. The latest Russian air defense systems are advertised to be able to shoot down cruise missiles like our Tomahawk. Both ground based and ship based Russians air defense systems are reported to have that capability. Plus the Russian ship has cruise missiles which can be fired in retaliation for an attack.
If nothing else, the Assad’s latest chemical attack on his own population proves that the Russians control of the Syrian dictator is tentative at best. Otherwise, he would have never been allowed to pull such a stupid stunt. So what happens if Assad goes from thumbing his nose at Trump to again dropping barrel bombs on civilians as he has been doing since the beginning of the war? How will Trump react even if his advisors inform him that ordering yet another attack might well lead to reprisals by the Syrian, Russians or Iranians which would draw our country’s military inevitability into full engagement into another no win Mid Eastern war that cannot possibility end well.
One of the lessons we should have learned in the Middle East is don’t do anything until you have a long term strategy which will dictate your immediate actions. Trump apparently never learned that lesson. Without a strategy, will Trump’s ego allow him to ignore further provocations without over reacting? No one knows. That’s exactly what we should expect when the US President has a classic case of narcissistic personality disorder. We should have considered the consequences his mental makeup before we handed him the job.