By Scott Taylor
Last Friday morning, U.S. President Donald Trump authorized a cruise missile strike against a Syrian air force base. This marked the first time that the U.S. has used direct military force against Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al Assad. Trump’s rationale for the missile attack was that Assad had “launched a horrible chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians using a deadly nerve agent.”
At that juncture there was still confusion, allegations and denials as to what exactly had caused the tragic, horrific death of more than 80 Syrian civilians in the town of Khan Sheikhoun three days earlier. It was clear that a chemical weapon had been employed but experts were only able to speculate that it could have been a nerve agent, as soil samples had yet to be tested by any international authorities. Yet somehow, Trump and his advisors were not only sure of the substance used, they knew without a doubt who was to blame, and even where the attack had originated. That is why at 3:45am on Friday, April 3, 59 U.S. cruise missiles slammed into hangars, the control towers and ammo dumps at the Assad controlled Shayrat airbase.
Syrian military authorities claimed that seven people were killed and nine wounded in that attack.
One has to ask what was achieved by launching such a hasty punitive attack before all the facts were investigated. Those Syrian troops on duty in the middle of the night at Shayrat airbase would not have been the individuals who would have authorized the use of a chemical weapon.
Retaliation for the sake of retaliation is a futile exercise. Trump would have been better served to have put Assad on notice that action would be taken once the Hague-based, Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) team concludes its investigation into this incident.
Back in 2013, following a deadly chemical weapon attack in a suburb of Damascus, OPCW investigators were able to access the scene of the crime within five days.
After weeks of thorough analysis, they were only able to conclude that saran gas-a-nerve agent had been used, but there was insufficient evidence to conclude that Assad’s loyalists were responsible. And certainly no proof that Assad was personally responsible.
That incident did however prompt Assad to comply with a Russian brokered agreement to surrender his entire arsenal of chemical weapons under international supervision.
The attack on Khan Sheikhoun last week has been held up as proof positive that Assad reneged on that deal. There were also speculative claims that the recent shift in U.S. policy in Syria had caused Assad to become emboldened in the extreme.
In the last week of March, White House spokesman Sean Spicer had admitted to reporters that Assad’s presidency was “a political reality that we have to accept.” That sentiment was echoed by Nikki Haley the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.
According to one Canadian pundit this supposed weakening of resolve on the part of the U.S. allowed Assad to at least to get back “to slaughtering his own people.”
If that is indeed what transpired, then not only is Assad a bloodthirsty monster, he is also one of the dumbest villains in history.
Just twenty months ago, Assad and his embattled loyalists were on the verge of defeat. Russia and Iran stepped in militarily to assist and together they were able to successfully reverse Assad’s battlefield fortunes. With the support from both Moscow and Tehran, suddenly Assad was back in the catbird seat. Add to this equation the U.S. withdrawing their demand for his ouster, and Assad must have thought he had beat the odds, and that his family’s three decades of rule would continue in perpetuity.
Then he allegedly did the one thing that would bring that all crashing down around him, and that was to recklessly employ a chemical weapon. Not only has Trump already brought military might down upon him, the U.S. has also renewed their pledge that Assad will have no role in any future Syrian administration.
Assad authorizing the use of a banned weapon with victory being within his grasp makes absolutely no sense. He must truly be mad. The results of the OPCW report on this latest incident should prove this once and for all.