Notes on the Syrian strike

President Obama drew his infamous “red line” (“red line for us”) against the use of chemical weapons by the the Syrian regime on August 20, 2012. It proved to be something of a Chamberlainite red line “for our time.” The Syrian regime employed chemical weapons against civilians in Ghouta one year later, in August 2013. In the event, President Obama revealed his “red line” to be imaginary. He invited Vladimir Putin to remove Assad’s store of chemical weapons. President Obama counts it among his proudest moments. ‘Twas a famous victory.

In truth, Obama ceded Syria to Russia and Iran. He trusted (or entrusted) Putin. He looks like a chump, but I doubt that he believed his own baloney. He had something else in mind. He wanted to pursue his romance with the mullahs of Iran and didn’t want to do anything to endanger it. On this point see Michael Doran’s Mosaic essay “Obama’s secret Iran strategy.”

Funny thing about Obama. He undermined our allies and empowered our enemies. Despite his claims to the contrary, Obama did not achieve his professed objective.

Assad emerged with a store of chemical weapons and the means to replenish his supplies. He used them last year on April 4 to attack the town of Khan Shaykhun. President Trump sought to let Assad know there was a new sheriff in town. He sent 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles Assad’s way to take out the Shayrat Airbase (the source of the attack on Khan Shaykhun) and create or restore deterrence against the use of chemical weapons.

Assad celebrated the one-year anniversary of his chemical attack on Khan Shaykun with another such attack, this time on the suburb of Douma at dusk a week ago. We responded to the attack last night together with British and French forces in a targeted series of strikes. The United States, the Brits and the French have all concluded that the attack on Douma used chemical weapons and was committed by Assad’s forces. The evidence supporting this conclusion has not been set forth in detail, but eyewitness testimony supports it and it is entirely consistent with Assad’s past practice.

Russian diplomacy has prevented further investigation on the ground. The Russians are protecting their Syrian client and lying absurdly about it. Of course, Putin himself is a murderer who has found chemical weapons to be of use. The Russian obstruction constitutes circumstantial evidence supporting the conclusion that Assad’s forces committed the attack.

President Trump spoke last night shortly after he the attacks commenced. His statement is here. Prime Minister May gave a statement followed by questions at a press conference a few hours ago. Her statement is posted here.

I found one passage of President Trump’s statement jarring. Here it is: “I also have a message tonight for the two governments most responsible for supporting, equipping and financing the criminal Assad regime. To Iran and to Russia, I ask: What kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women and children? The nations of the world can be judged by the friends they keep. No nation can succeed in the long run by promoting rogue states, brutal tyrants and murderous dictators.”

This passage has an unsavory Obamaian twist, advising two murderous regimes to hang out with better friends. Like Obama, Trump instructs Russia and Iran in their “true” interests, as though either regime is itself something other than a rogue state. Indeed, Iran is a murderous regime with genocidal aspirations. Only the “arc of history” was missing from this passage.

President Trump is doing his best under difficult circumstances to vindicate a “red line” against the use of chemical weapons. I think it is to his credit and he is deserving of our support.


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