Missile strikes on Syria: punishment, prevention, and warning 4

“What did the missile strikes on Syria’s chemical weapons sites do for America?”

“Why should Americans expend blood and treasure for Syrians victimized by their own government?”

“America is not the world’s policeman.”

Such are the questions and protests that are coming from angry commentators, including many conservatives.

So was President Trump’s decision to act as he did right or wrong?

Claudia Rosett, for long a trusty reporter on the horror show called the United Nations, writes at PJ Media:

With air strikes on Syria’s chemical weapons facilities, carried out jointly with Britain and France, America has done the right thing.

Leading from in front, President Trump is finally redrawing the red line that President Obama erased in 2013. Whatever the threats and criticisms that will surely follow, the world will be safer for it. The vital message is that America is no longer the hamstrung giant of the Obama era. Tyrants such as Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, and his patrons in Moscow and Tehran, have been served notice that it would be unwise to continue to assume that America will waffle, appease or simply retreat while they take upon themselves the shaping – to monstrous effect – of the 21st-century world order. This message is also likely to resonate in Beijing (which has reportedly been planning live-fire naval exercises next week in the Taiwan Strait) and Pyongyang (with its nuclear missile projects).

The immediate aim of the US-led air strikes was to end the chemical weapons attacks that Syria’s Assad regime has continued to inflict on its own people – despite Assad’s promises in 2013 to surrender his chemical weapons, and Russia’s promise to ensure Assad did so. On Friday, speaking at a meeting of the United Nations Security Council, Ambassador Nikki Haley charged that by U.S. estimates, “Assad has used chemical weapons in the Syrian war at least 50 times” – some of these attacks within the past year, including the gas attack that killed dozens … in the Syrian city of Douma.

There’s room for debate about whether it is America’s responsibility, on humanitarian grounds, to stop such atrocities. But whatever your views on protecting children in a far-off land from the hideous effects of chemical weapons, there is a larger, strategic reason for trying to stop Assad. Syria, with its liberal use of chemical weapons, has been setting a horrific precedent – repeatedly violating the Chemical Weapons Convention to which Damascus acceded in 2013, and eroding the longstanding international taboo against chemical warfare. This is dangerous way beyond Syria. As Haley told the UN Security Council: “All nations and all people will be harmed if we allow Assad to normalize the use of chemical weapons.”

In theory, the United Nations was supposed to prevent this, ensuring in tandem with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons that Assad would give up all his chemical weapons – with the specific oversight and guarantees of Russia, under a deal cut in 2013 by Obama and Putin. As I explained in an article earlier this week for The Hill, the UN has failed utterly, thanks to Putin’s cynical exploitation of the entire setup. Russia used the chemical weapons disarmament deal as a portal for its own military entry into Syria in support of Assad, and has since been using its veto on the UN Security Council, along with a torrent of Kremlin propaganda, to run diplomatic cover for Assad.

As many conservative commentators pointed out at the time, it was stupid (if not collusional) of Obama and his secretary of state John Kerry to hand over the responsibility for overseeing Syria’s WMD abandonment to Russia.

The upshot has been that if the US does not stop Assad’s use of chemical weapons, then nobody will.

Neither Britain nor France would have done it without the US.

The US could have done it on its own. British and French participation in the missile attack was useful for President Trump, though not necessary for the success of the operation. The huge majority of the missiles were American – 88 of the 105. Nine were French and 8 were British.

Prime Minister May allowed British forces to strike Syria along with US forces because she “owed” President Trump for his supporting her, when she hit back at Russia for the poisoning of two Russian expats in Britain by expelling Putin’s diplomats and closing a consulate. She asked President Trump to do the same, and he did. She was able to give the order for the strike on Syria by the RAF without consulting parliament because the MPs were still absent on their Easter break. She seized the moment, and now there’s an outcry in the Commons – as well as the country – about it.

As for President Macron, he seems to be fascinated by President Trump, wanting to follow him and yet also to direct him. Macron claimed that he had “convinced” Trump that he should keep the US military engaged in Syria – and then he retracted the claim.

Last April, after Assad used sarin gas in an attack that killed almost 100 people, Trump ordered a strike of 59 Tomahawk missiles on a Syrian airbase. Evidently, that was not enough to stop Assad’s chemical weapons spree.

At a Pentagon press briefing Friday evening held shortly after Trump’s public announcement of the strikes on Syria, Gen. Joseph Dunford listed three targets “struck and destroyed,” which he said were “specifically associated with the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons program.” The last two on his list were chemical weapons storage facilities, one of which included “an important command post”. On these, I don’t know anything beyond the generic descriptions Dunford gave at the briefing.

But the first target on Dunford’s list had a very familiar ring. He described it as “a scientific research center located in the greater Damascus area”. He added: “This military facility was a Syrian center for the research, development, production and testing of chemical and biological warfare technology.”

That sure sounds like the notorious Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center, also known as the SSRC. In which case there can be no doubt that these air strikes were aimed at an incredibly high-value target, an outfit central to some of the worst depravities of Assad’s weapons programs, and – as it happens – a longtime client of North Korea and Iran. On the 99 percent probability that this was the research center to which Dunford referred, here’s some background:

For starters, I’d credit Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis with telling it exactly as it is, when he said at the same Pentagon press briefing Friday night, “We were very precise and proportionate. But at the same time, it was a heavy strike.”

The SSRC has been on the U.S. sanctions list for 13 years, first designated under the Bush administration in 2005, with periodic, horrifying updates under the Obama and Trump administrations, targeting its various fronts, procurement arms, officials and connections.

This is not just any old research center. According to the U.S. Treasury, it is “the Syrian government agency responsible for developing and producing non-conventional weapons and the missiles to deliver them”. …

On April 24, 2017, following Assad’s sarin gas attack on the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun, the Trump administration blacklisted 271 employees of the SSRC, stating that these individuals “have expertise in chemistry and related disciplines and/or have worked in support of SSRC’s chemical weapons since at least 2012”.  In other words, during the same time frame in which Russia (and former secretary of State John Kerry) were assuring us that 100 percent of the chemical weapons were gone from Syria, the Syrian regime’s SSRC was prolifically busy plowing ahead with Assad’s chemical weapons program.

We also have it on good authority that during roughly that same interval, the SSRC was ordering up shipments from North Korea. According to the UN Panel of Experts on North Korea sanctions, in a report dated March 5, 2018, their investigations into weapons and dual-use shipments to Syria from North Korea turned up more than 40 shipments between 2012 and 2017 “by entities designated by Member States as front companies for the Scientific Studies Research Centre of the Syrian Arab Republic.” Among these shipments were items “with utility in ballistic missile and chemical weapons programs”.

If the SSRC was indeed struck and destroyed, the likely benefits are enormous. That would deprive Assad of one of the most diabolical laboratories of his evil regime, quite likely providing a big setback to his chemical weapons program, with the two-fer that it might also have zapped his bioweapons program.

It would also send a useful message to everyone from the SSRC’s suppliers, such as Iran and North Korea, to such predatory dictators as Russia’s Putin and China’s Xi Jinping. Destroying the SSRC with air strikes ought to drive home, in a way that no amount of UN debate and no quantity of sanctions designations ever could, that these days the U.S. and its allies are serious about their red lines. 

The SSRC was struck. According to the caption to this picture in The Independent, this rubble is what’s left of “part” of it.

Two foreign policies 3

The US government has two foreign policies: one is President Trump’s, the other is Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s.

In the case of US policy towards Iran, for instance, President Trump abominates the “deal” Obama made with that evil regime and wants to tear it up, while the Secretary of State wants to preserve it.

The “deal” (it is not a treaty, it isn’t even signed by either side) requires the president of the United States to certify, every 90 days, that Iran is complying with it.

Iran is not complying with it.

Against his better judgment, for reasons we have to assume were sound at the time, President Trump has re-certified it twice. He must have done so with great reluctance, such a horrible thing it is, giving the America-hating mullahs the right to start building a nuclear arsenal in a few years from now. Under its cover, Iran isn’t even waiting the few years; it is working constantly towards its nuclear goal.

So President Trump cannot certify for a third time that it is in compliance.

And according to AP, he won’t.

AP reports:

President Donald Trump could announce his secret decision on the future of the Iran nuclear deal next week.

U.S. officials familiar with the president’s planning said Wednesday he is preparing to deliver an Iran policy speech in which he is expected to declare the landmark 2015 agreement contrary to America’s national security interests. …

Trump faces an Oct. 15 deadline to tell Congress if he believes Iran is complying with the seven-nation pact and if it advances US interests.

The president has called the 2015 deal, which forced Iran to scale back its nuclear program in exchange for broad relief from international economic sanctions, one of the nation’s “worst and most one-sided transactions” ever. But many of his top national security aides don’t want to dismantle the deal, and America’s European allies have lobbied the Trump administration heavily not to walk away from the agreement.

Even AP – which cannot conceal which of the two US foreign policies it favors – cannot claim more for the “deal” than that it “forced Iran to scale back its nuclear program”. But it is not scaling it back much, if at all. So much for the “forced”.

“We’re going to give him a couple of options of how to move forward to advance the important policy toward Iran,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters Wednesday. He said the Iran deal comprised “only a small part” of the government’s approach to Iran, a traditional US  adversary in the Middle East that Washington considers the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.

President Trump’s Secretary of State is going to give him, the president, a couple of options.

Tillerson will preserve the deal, but will do it in such a way that the president doesn’t lose face!

The Iran deal’s future may hinge on a face-saving fix for Trump so he doesn’t have to recertify the Islamic republic’s compliance every 90 days …

Several officials familiar with internal discussions say the periodic deadlines have become such a source of embarrassment for Trump that his aides are trying to find ways for him to stop signing off on the accord without scuttling it entirely.

So having to certify that Iran is in compliance when it isn’t, is only a source of embarrassment to President Trump? Not a lie to America and the world against his own will and principles? Those officials should not be in the White House or the State Department or wherever they are lurking!

Trump has said repeatedly that he doesn’t want to certify Iranian compliance again after having done so twice already, declaring last month he even had made his mind up about what he’ll do next. “Decertification” could lead Congress to reintroduce economic sanctions on Iran that were suspended under the deal. If that happens, Iran has threatened to walk away from the arrangement and restart activities that could take it closer to nuclear weapons.

That last sentence is one of many in the report which shows AP’s bias. A warning to the president. “Walk away from the deal?” It is walking away from it. “Closer to nuclear weapons”? It is close to them now.

The UN (along with Europe) is on the side of keeping the deal. Because (like Europe) it is on the side of Iran. Its International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has recently admitted that it cannot verify that Iran is implementing the most important part of the “deal”, Section T – the part that prohibits Iran from developing nuclear weapons for 10 to 15 years from the time the “deal” was agreed.

The plain fact is  that the IAEA is not just useless in keeping Iran from becoming a nuclear power, it is helping it on the excuse that if it asked for the permission of Iran to inspect its  military bases – which according to the stupid “deal” it must – it knows Iran will not give it. And that would confirm President  Trump’s criticism of the deal. “We just don’t want to give them [the US] an excuse” to “bring down the deal”, an IAEA official said.

Since the IAEA cannot inspect the sites, and so cannot say that Iran is not keeping to the “deal”, AP declares that the agency has found Iran in compliance:

Because the UN nuclear watchdog has found Iran in compliance, it’s difficult for the US administration to say otherwise. However, Trump and other officials, including Tillerson, have said Iran is violating the spirit of the agreement because of its testing of ballistic missiles, threats to US allies in the Middle East, and support for US-designated terrorist organizations and Syria’s government.

So Tillerson does at least admit that Iran is “violating the spirit of the agreement”.

But he and US Defense department officials, including the Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, still want to keep itSince the IAEA has not certified that Iran is in breach of it, they pretend that means it is not in breach of it.

Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that Iran “is not in material breach of the agreement”.

Why do they pretend this?  Because –

At the same hearing, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he believed the deal is still in the US national security interest.

For US officials involved in the decision-making process, the focus on finding a way for Trump to avoid anything looking like approval for the accord has become a source of frustration. Various options are in play to resolve the problem, but none are clean solutions, according to officials.

And they will  not consider simply accepting President Trumps wish to scrap the useless “accord”. So all their difficulties are of their own making – finding a way to implement their own policy rather than the president’s, while making the president think that they are implementing his!

The most likely strategy centers on Trump not certifying Iran’s compliance. Below the president, diplomats and officials would then strive to manage any fallout with Tehran and US allies by emphasizing that Washington isn’t leaving the deal or immediately applying new nuclear sanctions on Iran. After that, Trump wouldn’t have to address the certification matter again, officials said.

And as long as the issue doesn’t come before him for his signature, they can merrily proceed with their own plans?

Whether AP is aware of it or not, its report reveals a contempt for President Trump on the part of Tillerson and the generals. It suggests that they regard the president as so naive that he can be hoodwinked by a trick which removes the need for him to certify that Iran is keeping the deal, but yet preserves the deal

Mattis hinted his boss may try to decertify without breaking the deal.

His boss may try? He, Mattis – along with Tillerson – will try.

“You can talk about the conditions under one of those, and not walk away from the other,” he said.

While Mattis described the issues of certification and upholding the deal as “different pieces”, they overlap.

How can Iran’s breaking of the deal – which is what decertifying means – not cancel it? The breaking cannot just be a “different piece” which “overlaps” the deal as a whole. It is the essence of an agreement that it must be kept by both sides or it is invalidated. By a “different piece” they can only mean that the clause calling for certification is not the whole of the agreement. By saying it “overlaps” the clauses, they are tacitly acknowledging that declaring the agreement broken by Iran does affect the whole thing.

They are trying to preserve a broken deal!  Of course it’s a strain even on the skills of an equivocating diplomat to reconcile “broken” with “not so broken we have to discard it”.

Why are they straining to keep it?

In January, Tillerson must waive multiple sets of sanctions on Iran for the US to uphold its part of the deal. The issue of US national security interests is relevant to those decisions.

How “US national interests” are protected or advanced by the “deal” is not explained. It has never been explained.

Obama’s “deal” makes it possible for the belligerent, America-hating theocrats of Iran,  who believe absolutely in Shia Islam and its centuries-long ambition to subdue the world under Shia Muslim rule, to become a nuclear power. How is that in the interests of the United States?

President Trump sees that it is not. As AP itself reports: President Trump “is expected to declare the landmark 2015 agreement contrary to America’s national security interests”. 

May he do so! Then let’s see by what contorted argument the resistance within the administration tries to justify preserving the abominable “deal”.