Friday, April 20, 2018

It’s a Start

Matthew Brodsky,

image from article, with caption: The remains of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center in Damascus, April 14.

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. In the White House, apparently, it is worth 105 missiles if it shows the suffering of women and children from a lethal combination of sarin and chlorine gas. President Donald Trump’s response, obliterating three chemical-weapons-related facilities in Syria, demonstrated that the United States will not stand idly by when certain chemical weapons (CW) are used against civilians. Coaxing the chemical genie back into the bottle was the right decision even if it came some five-and-a-half years after President Barack Obama declared “a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized” in Syria would constitute a red line. ...

Beyond its importance in reestablishing some measure of deterrence and degrading the Syrian regime’s ability to use such weapons in the future, the aerial assault demonstrated that the United States is capable of striking at will inside the capital of murderous dictator Bashar al-Assad. As a result, it finally puts to rest the absurd notion propagated by the Obama administration and its supporters that the United States couldn’t operate in or over Syria because of Assad’s top-notch Russian-made air defense systems.

There were also ramifications for the use of social media platforms and their place in public diplomacy [JB emphasis]. In a week in which Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg was grilled by Congress for creating the preferred fake news platform for those seeking to fix elections, President Trump turned to Twitter to broadcast his intention to rain down fire and fury on Syria, taunt Assad as a “Gas Killing Animal,” and dare Russia to shoot down U.S. missiles.

Twitter came out on top as Trump’s nastygram landed on its intended audience. With a single tweet, the president scattered Russia’s vessels from its Mediterranean port at Tartous, had Assad’s men abandoning their air bases and rapidly relocating air assets near Russian positions, and sent Iran-backed militias, including Hezbollah, scurrying from their posts and hunkering down in safer quarters. America’s enemies rightly fear U.S. military power when Trump dons the hat of commander in chief and wields Twitter like a sword. ...

As far as punitive action is concerned, the Trump administration could have done far more to deter Assad in the future. For instance, the United States could have hit his presidential palace in Damascus on Mount Mezzeh, which is just a stone’s throw away from the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center that the coalition struck with 76 missiles. The administration could have combined that strike with a message to Putin as well by leveling Assad’s summer residence and palace in Latakia on the Mediterranean coast, near Russia’s Khmeimim air base.

Instead of merely striking at the heart of Assad’s CW program, as the Pentagon put it, President Trump could have taken out the rest of the sites associated with CW production, storage, and delivery. He could have further hindered Assad’s ability to slaughter the Syrian people by cratering his runways and airfields, destroying his air assets, and targeting what remains of his Soviet-era air defense systems. Of course, such a plan would necessitate the tactical element of surprise to catch Assad’s aircraft in their hangars before they were repositioned near Russian assets. That would rule out early-morning Twitter rants that spell out martial stratagems. Such a target set would further degrade the regime’s military capabilities. ...

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