Analysis: US launches strikes against Syrian regime in major policy shift

Shayrat SyriaThe nearly 60 Tomahawk missiles that the United States fired at Syria in the early hours of Friday local time were not the first. Nor were they the first that struck a Syrian government installation. In September of 2016, for example, a United States airstrike hit a military base in the eastern Syrian city of Deir el-Zour, killing 62 and wounding over 100 government soldiers. However, the Pentagon claimed that the strike was in error and had been intended to hit Islamic State militants. In fact, the entirety of America’s previous military strikes on Syrian soil has been aimed at the Islamic State. The missiles that last night on the Syrian military airbase of Shayrat marked Washington’s first intentional attack on the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Consequently, the US is now an official belligerent in one of our time’s most complex and intractable armed conflicts.

Since the missile attacks were confirmed, all eyes have concentrated on Russia, President Al-Assad’s primary supporter, without whom Damascus would now probably be run by a consortium of Sunni militias. There is no question that Shayrat hosts a significant contingent of Russian military personnel and large quantities of Russian-supplied military equipment, ranging from airplanes to radar facilities. Moscow’s response to the American attack will largely depend on whether any of its personnel are among the casualties in Shayrat. There is also concern about China’s response, given that Washington’s attack took place during the official visit to the United States by Xi Jinping, premier of China, another strong Syrian ally. Finally, it is worth considering possible Iranian responses to the US attack, especially if Iranian citizens end up on the casualty list.

The attention paid by observers to Russia, China and Iran is understandable given the clout of these countries on the world stage. But the most important response may come from Syria itself. According to the US Pentagon, the strike on the Shayrat airbase was intended “to deter the [Syrian] regime from using chemical weapons again”. But what if it does not? Last time Washington responded to rumors of a chemical attack in Syria, President Obama warned his counterpart in Damascus not to cross the red line of chemical warfare. Which, of course, was precisely what Mr. Assad did, successfully calling Washington’s bluff. He may do so again. Last night’s American attack may therefore result in an intensification of chemical warfare by the Syrian regime. At that point, US President Donald Trump will have no choice but to deepen America’s involvement in an increasingly chaotic and unpredictable war, where he will find Russia on the opposite side.

Few supporters of President Trump, who campaigned promising to disengage America from foreign wars and focus on domestic concerns, could have imagined even a month ago that the White House would be entering the Syrian Civil War. And yet this is precisely what is happening. The US now has over 500 troops stationed on Syrian soil, and has just attacked the country’s government with dozens of missiles. The reaction to that attack by the government in Damascus may draw Washington even deeper into the Syrian war. Many observers in America have suggested that the only way to truly evaluate the Trump administration will be by observing its performance during a major international crisis. It appears that they may soon get their wish.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 March 2017 | Permalink

7 Responses to Analysis: US launches strikes against Syrian regime in major policy shift

  1. Jacob says:

    I’m sure this had nothing to do with McMaster because everyone praises McMaster, right? He’s such a cool guy with his book criticizing dead generals for not pressuring the political elements during Vietnam. How daring and brave of him. Oh, and, Flynn, he was the bad guy. You know, the military guy pressuring the political idiots to GTFO of the Muslim proxy game…

    Good call, dems, intellectuals, and defense “experts.” A few dead kids, unsubstantiated ascriptions of blame, some crocodile tears, and 59 Tomahawks into Syria. In 48 hours. This whole chemical gas attack was less convincing than “incubator babies.”

  2. Elizabeth Baalbaki says:

    I cannot help but worry that, what seems to be an ‘impulsive’ decision and action by President Trump, may be deemed ‘an act of war’ by Syria or Russia, or both. Dr Fitsanakis, in your opinion, is it likely that the United States will now suffer the consequences of the attack and experience retaliatory aggressive attacks, thus leading to a declaration of war against us?

  3. intelNews says:

    @Elizabeth Baalbaki: There don’t appear to be Russian, Iranian, or Iraqi deaths as a result of the strikes, so the situation is arguably not as tense as it could have been. I do not think that the United States will suffer direct retaliation, but I think that retaliation will come from Russia, and possibly Iran, indirectly. As an example, there is no question that the United States needs the cooperation of both of these countries to stabilize the region, and it may now be more difficult than every to secure that cooperation. [JF]

  4. Grant Short says:

    I’m unclear. In the article you state that the Assad regime defied the Obama Adminstration by using Chemical weapons.
    To my knowledge this was proven false as it turned out to be Al Nusra (spelling) rebels or one of the opposition’s chemical weapons on several occasions.

  5. intelNews says:

    @Grant Short: I presume you are referring to the 2013 Ghouta chemical attack, which killed nearly 1,000 people in a revel-held area of Syria. Numerous governments, the European Union and the Arab League, found that it was perpetrated by the Assad regime. This was also the conclusion of an investigation by Human Rights Watch. But you may know something they don’t. [JF]

  6. Bill Banks says:

    My ignorance of chemical warfare is complete. The HRW pictures of dead children neatly layed out is chilling and so very much more. However, I am bound to note that this 2013 paper is preliminary with a “UN investigative team [to release] its findings on completion of its investigation.” (p 16) On the next page, there is reference to a press release by Doctors Without Borders, a consistently credible group. But nothing offered here is later than 2013.

    The images doubtless better convey the horror than any analytical data. And then there is the problem of “translating” such material for the laity. But reference and citations to studied conclusions would seem appropriate.

  7. Bill Banks says:

    Century Foundation has several interesting articles on nerve gas in Syria. Particularly interesting to me is why Assad invited inspection of the Shayrat Air Base has not been accomplished. In a war of all against all, those searching for objective answers are true heroes.

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