- President Donald Trump rallied US allies for a trilateral strike on chemical weapons sites in Syria, and it looks to have achieved its goal.
- Syria has deep, horrific problems beyond chemical weapons use, and the Pentagon admits it didn’t even take out all its chemical weapons.
- Instead, the strike was a public spanking for the Assad regime, which won’t change anything on the battlefield or make life better for most Syrians.
- Viewed narrowly as an attempt by the allies to punish Syria’s government, it was a roaring success.
President Donald Trump this weekend pulled off a large-scale attack on sites thought to contribute to Syria’s chemical weapons program — but even the Pentagon admits that might not be enough.
The Pentagon says the strikes, made by the US, France, and the UK, took out the “heart” of Syria’s chemical weapons program. But Syrian President Assad, whom the UN has linked to dozens of gas attacks, still maintains “residual” capabilities of creating and using chemical weapons, it said.
Assad still has his jets and helicopters. The air wing in Assad’s army that the US suspects of having dropped the gas bombs went unpunished. None of Assad’s generals were bombed for carrying out illegal orders to drop gas bombs on civilians.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called the strike “precise and proportionate,” and while the strike may have used precise, smart, new weapons, it’s unclear what Mattis thinks the strike is in proportion to.
What did the strikes change on the ground?
Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have been killed during the seven-year civil war, which kicked off when Assad violently responded to pro-democracy rallies in 2011.
Millions in Syria have been displaced by the conflict, many have been tortured and abducted. Large swaths of the country fell under jihadist rule. An entire generation of Syrian children are growing up knowing only war.
The strikes on Friday night addressed none of that. The 105 weapons used against three facilities across Syria only targeted chemical weapons production in Syria, and didn’t even remove all of those weapons or capabilities.
Instead, the strikes made a big show of punishing the Assad government for its alleged use of chemical weapons, and did so on a shaky legal premise.
Chemical warfare can continue in Syria. Widespread fighting, casualties, and abuses of power in the deeply unstable country will continue with near certainty. A hundred missiles, or even a thousand, couldn’t hope to reverse the deep problems faced by Syrians every day, or to punish Assad and his inner circle as much as they have punished their own people, but Trump never actually tried to.
Performative allyship in cruise missile form
Assad, a leader whom Trump calls an animal who gasses his own people, remains in power. Chemical weapons remain in Syria. The world is no closer to finding peace there.
But Assad has been publicly spanked by the US, the UK, and France. Three nations told Syria, and its Russian backers, they meant business after years of turning a blind eye to reports of horrors in the country.
The Syria strike, viewed as a public spanking rather than a decisive military campaign, was a “mission accomplished” not because it changed anything, but because they made it loud.