A just response to a savage attack – but what next? 15

Last night the US Department of Defense put out this statement through Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis:

At the direction of the president, U.S. forces conducted a cruise missile strike against a Syrian Air Force airfield today at about 8:40 p.m. EDT (4:40 a.m., April 7, in Syria).  The strike targeted Shayrat Airfield in Homs governorate, and were in response to the Syrian government’s chemical weapons attack April 4 in Khan Sheikhoun, which killed and injured hundreds of innocent Syrian people, including women and children.

The strike was conducted using Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAMs) launched from the destroyers USS Porter and USS Ross in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.  A total of 59 TLAMs targeted aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage, ammunition supply bunkers, air defense systems, and radars.   As always, the U.S. took extraordinary measures to avoid civilian casualties and to comply with the Law of Armed Conflict. Every precaution was taken to execute this strike with minimal risk to personnel at the airfield.

The strike was a proportional response to Assad’s heinous act. Shayrat Airfield was used to store chemical weapons and Syrian air forces.  The U.S. intelligence community assesses that aircraft from Shayrat conducted the chemical weapons attack on April 4.  The strike was intended to deter the regime from using chemical weapons again.

Russian forces were notified in advance of the strike using the established deconfliction line.  U.S. military planners took precautions to minimize risk to Russian or Syrian personnel located at the airfield.

We are assessing the results of the strike.  Initial indications are that this strike has severely damaged or destroyed Syrian aircraft and support infrastructure and equipment at Shayrat Airfield, reducing the Syrian Government’s ability to deliver chemical weapons.  The use of chemical weapons against innocent people will not be tolerated.

We applaud President Trump for keeping his word that he would act after the gassing of civilians in Khan Sheikhoun, and for acting decisively and effectively.

The strike sends a message to Russia, Iran, and North Korea that this president does what he says he will do, and he is willing to use the military might of the US against aggressors.

But questions arise:

The libertarian view is that the US should not have struck Syria because the US itself was not attacked. Is there merit in this view?

It needs to be asked: if Bashar Assad is deposed – as Secretary of State Tillerson has indicated is now a policy aim of the Trump administration- what will come after him? Is there anyone ready to succeed Assad who will govern the country any better?

Will chaos and violence prevail in Syria after Assad has gone, as it has in Libya ever since the death of its dictator Colonel Muammar Qaddafi?

Could any country possibly be in a worse, a more unstable, a more chaotic state, than Syria is now and has been for years?

Unless –

Will Assad’s going make it easier for ISIS to take over the whole country?

If ISIS did that, would President Trump – with the necessary approval of Congress – declare war on Syria?

What will happen to the Christians in Syria who have been protected by Assad if he goes? ISIS policy is to convert or enslave or destroy them.

We invite readers’ answers to these questions, or any others which this dramatic turn in world affairs gives rise to.

Posted under Arab States, middle east, Syria, United States, War by Jillian Becker on Friday, April 7, 2017

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This post has 15 comments.

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  • I’ve thought very long and hard about all this, read an enormous amount of words on the subject, and still I can’t reach a very firm conclusion. I am tempted to say time will tell whether Trump is doing the right thing but that doesn’t seem good enough either given the gravity of the situation. Relations with Russia seem to be deteriorating rapidly.

    Whatever the real motivations, “dead babies” is surely not the reason, because there were dead babies in the last large scale chemical attack in Ghouta when Trump was arguing against involvement, and in US drone strikes, and in Hiroshima and in Dresden. Dead babies are just a terrible fact of life about what happens in wars, they are not on their own a sane reason for starting another war. If the outcome is just going to be a further de-stabilisation of Syria than there will be many more dead babies, and confidence in Trump’s ability as a leader will be shattered.

    There are a truly alarming number of different rebel groups fighting in this war. I rather get the impression that nobody knows exactly how many of the rebels belong to which group. Suppressing these groups will be difficult indeed if whoever is proposed as Assad’s replacement is not popular among them. If they don’t put down their weapons at that point then whoever takes over will probably end up killing a lot more babies in the ensuing bloodbath. I hardly think an externally imposed choice will be popular either. Overall I’m afraid I can’t see this going well at the moment. The nature of the rebel groups, many of which seem to be fairly hard-line Islamic types, does not bode at all well in my view. It really seems they cannot all be categorized as “ISIS” by any means either.

    I’m afraid I am inclined towards the view that bad though he appears to be, the alternatives will all be even worse, and maybe much worse. He does have substantial support in Syria as well as opposition. I therefore rather hope that Trump is just setting a red line for Assad as a prelude to negotiations, in spite of everything.

    • Chauncey – You may want to comment on our post about this debate, headed “Make war not love”.

  • Guy Fawkes

    Assad is horrible, but the problem we are going to run into (as alluded to in the post) is what will come AFTER Assad. ISIS sits in the wings, just waiting for the chaos that will ensue. So, once again it will be necessary for the US to become bogged down in a war we don’t have the stomach to win. Still and all I don’t see a choice. We can’t let that level of horror exist without at least attempting to answer. Perhaps in Trump we have a President who will be willing to acquit the war the way it needs to be done in order to get a decisive outcome.

    And as a side note: I just discovered this site today. Good to know that there are others who share both my political and religious views. Thanks for being here.

    • Welcome, Guy Fawkes! We are happy to have you with us. And thanks for your comment.

      Yes. If a war needs to be fought it needs to be won. President Trump is unpredictable, but he does what he says he’ll do. If he’s decided Assad must go, he will very likely go. Perhaps the administration has even thought about what will happen in Syria after that – if Syria still exists.

      • Guy Fawkes

        Thanks for the welcome and reply, Jillian!

        Trump is unpredictable, but at his core he’s a Patriot. When all is said and done that’s the most important quality we need in a President. My concern is a Congress that is so offended by someone outside their clique being elected (on both sides of the aisle) that they seem to be hellbent on fighting him every step of the way. I hope this was the right move.

  • liz

    I agree that Trump acted decisively and effectively, and put Syria, Russia, China, and North Korea on notice that he will back up words with actions.
    If they take Assad out, I think they will follow up as we did after taking Saddam Hussain out, which was a success until Obama screwed it up by withdrawing all our troops. I’m not generally “interventionist”, but we need to restore order to the royal mess Obama and Hillary made of things.
    I’d prefer not to be the world’s ‘policeman’, but if we don’t assert ourselves in the world, Russia, Iran, and China will.

    • Rather crucial to ensure that making America great again isn’t just a short term interlude followed by another disastrous Democrat.

  • Athrin

    Bashar Assad DID NOT GAS THOSE PEOPLE, it makes ZERO logical sense for him to do so, he is winning the war, the USA was not trying to depose him or attack him, Trump is a complete fool for falling for this con, and there is evidence of people knowing the gas attack was going to happen 24 hours prior to the attack…by attacking, Trump is guilty of a war crime and murder.

    • Thank you for your contribution to the debate, Athrin.

      Who did gas them? It was done from the air, and only Assad and the Russians have planes. ISIS does not. No ‘rebel group” has them.

      Please give us the rest of your explanation.

      • Athrin

        +for one, it cannot be 100% confirmed it came from the air, that is what they are claiming, and you do not need fighters jets to do air attacks.

        “A second U.S. official also familiar with the intelligence told NBC News not to rule out a similar method — either rockets or artillery — in Khan Sheikhoun. People on the ground reported aircraft nearby at the time of the explosion.”

        like i said, assad was winning, Trump was not trying to remove assad nor was he planing any attacks against him, the ONLY ones that benefit from this ARE THE SO CALLED REBELS, and they HAVE use chemical attacks in the past. Trump at best, is a fool, at worst is guilty of war crimes and murder for this attack against syria.

        • Okay. So you are with the tyrant Assad against President Trump.

          Do you understand what that says about you?

          • Athrin

            assad maybe a tyrant but blaming him for something he most likely did not do is an injustice, and those who seeks to replace him are 1000% worst. Better the devil you know than something worst that will replace him, or have you not learned anything from Libya, or Egypt…and what does it say about you, siding with someone attacking a country for an act they may not have done. I am surprised you are not using reason or logic but acting like a theists would.

            • I am surprised that you are surprised. You obviously do not grasp or share the ideas, principles, and approach to critical thinking of this website. Frankly you puzzle us. You are simultaneously ferocious in the remedies you urge – nothing less than indiscriminate human slaughter on a massive scale – and fussy as an old maid over a need to be scrupulously “just” to a monster like Assad. I’ll not ask you again to explain yourself. You obviously can not.

            • Athrin

              If assad is guilty then he should suffer the consequences, right now that is uncertain that he is, and attacking him for something he may not have done is wrong, no mater if he is a tyrant or not (he is a tyrant), and who do you suppose replaces him? ISIS? someone Iran picks? Al Qaeda? for the time being he is the lesser of several evils. And leftists are not human in any way, shape or form. I am not defending assad, i am saying if he is to be punished, then he should be for something that he did, not something that he may not have done. If not careful sirya will end up like libya, now tell me is libya currently better off without Gaddafy?

            • Assad is a Leftist. He leads the Syrian Ba’ath Party, which is a Leftist party. If Leftists are not human, he is not human. If Leftists should be indiscriminately killed, he should be. You could try putting your point about Qaddafi in a reasoned manner (it is a point we ourselves make in the post) rather than aggressively. Especially as you urge us to use reason (as if we don’t).