Carl Prine, sandiegouniontribune.com
Image from article, with caption: In this image from the Navy, the guided-missile destroyer Porter launches a Tomahawk missile in the Mediterranean Sea.
Excerpt:About half an hour after sunrise last Tuesday, an American satellite tracked two Syrian jets wheeling over the town of Khan Shaykhun.Those aircraft dropped four canisters. Ten minutes later came the first reports that civilians were dying from what appeared to be sarin gas, a deadly nerve agent. ...American satellite images provided to The San Diego Union-Tribune tracked the chemical attacks to Shayrat Airfield, home to both Syrian fighter-bombers and, nearby, the helicopters and crews of their Russian allies.Sixty-three hours after the first Khan Shaykhun civilians jerked, flopped and twisted to death in agony, Shayrat was on fire, pounded by 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles launched by a pair of U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyers sailing off the coast of the island of Crete. ...[T]he Shayrat raid appeared to be a military success.The trickier problem is ensuring that the tactical and operational might of the Navy’s surface warships translates into a strategy that prods Assad to never use chemical weapons again, said Christine Wormuth, who served as President Barack Obama’s undersecretary of defense for policy.Now a senior adviser at the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., she pointed out that while many readers will concentrate on the missile strike, a smart strategist uses all elements of American power to meet foreign-policy goals, including economic, diplomatic and espionage assets.“Whether this was the start of a broader effort by the United States to be involved militarily in resolving the conflict, I think remains to be seen,” said Wormuth, who generally supports Trump’s decision to launch the Tomahawks.“It’s a very, very difficult and thorny problem. My advice would be to think very hard about the second, third and fourth steps, not just the immediate steps,” she added. “And I think a lot of the things that made this conflict so difficult during the Obama administration are still true today in the Trump administration. We have Russia and Iran backing the Assad regime, arguably with more at stake in their national interests than we have. Russia is now there on the ground and in force, which makes it even more complicated because it raises the risks of potential escalation with a nuclear power.”Iranian and allied Hezbollah forces in Syria won’t abandon Assad, Wormuth said, and Russia likely would risk more because Moscow wants to hold onto its toehold in the Mediterranean — the port of Tartus.Anti-Assad militias have been decimated during the past year by Syrian forces backed by Russian air and naval power, and many of the stronger armed groups are filled with jihadists linked to Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State.Wormuth said Russia and Syria have entwined their anti-aircraft and anti-missile shields, with Moscow vowing to send more of the sophisticated systems to aid Damascus. She also believes the United States’ public diplomacy has taken a hit because of Trump’s proposals to slash the State Department budget and block entry to refugees from the Middle East.The decision to give up chemical weapons belongs to Assad. But Wormuth said Trump now must decide whether he’s willing to go to Congress to develop a longer and more detailed Syria strategy, one that could put many more American troops at risk in that war-torn country.