April 14, 2018
On Friday night (the Islamic sabbath) a coalition of American, British, and French forces bombed the Syrian chemical weapons sites, firing over 100 missiles and making numerous bomber plane sorties against the Assad regimes weapons caches. The attack was in response to the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime against U.S. backed rebels.
According to the Financial Times: "Loud explosions and flashes lit up the sky over Damascus. Jamal Siba’i, who lives near the Mezzeh military air base, which may have fired an air defence system, said that his household was "woken up around 5am by very loud sounds”.
President Trump, despite being critical in the past of America's tendency to telegraph such attacks, was quite open about his plans, tweeting "the missiles are coming" when the Russians made threats to stop us. That was prudent; the greatest danger in such an action is that it could trigger a broader war, possibly one involving nuclear weapons. Russia has the second largest nuclear aresenal on Earth and one that is much more up to date than its American counterpart.
Al Jazeera argues this will not spread.
"These strikes, like the 2017 strike on Shayrat airbase, carefully avoided Russian presence in Syria and will do nothing to dislodge the Syrian regime from its place. Furthermore, they will not change US priorities in Syria, which are simply a continuation of the Obama administration's "war on terror" policy."
And that is exactly right; we studiously avoided hitting Russian forces. We also made it clear there was no "regime change" intended here, just punishment for gassing people, a violation of international law.
So what are my thoughts? I think we should never have gotten involved in Syria to begin with, and that we probably should not have done this now, but I understand why Trump did it and think he deserves our backing, even if it wasn't the best idea. The issue of chemical attacks is what has driven this decision, a violation of international law. But is it worse to be killed by gas or by incendiary? Dead is dead, and there are legal ways that are as bad or worse than death by poison gas. The people so worked up about the use of gas weren't overly concerned when ISIS was crucifying Christians, clearly a worse way to die than a quick gasing. If we attacked everyone who broke international law we would be fighting half of the planet.
Years ago I had an e-mail argument with Jed Babbin, a former undersecretary of defense and political commentator. Jed flippantly said an invasion of Syria would be a days walk, and I asked "what about the Russians". Jed wasn't worried about the Russians and I think eh was quite short sighted about that. Granted, at that moment in time they were weaker than now, but they still had a big nuclear arsenal and Syria is a key strategic location to them, rather like Japan would be to us. Moreso, in fact. And with America in Iraq, in Afghanistan, with NATO in Turkey and Poland, the Russians felt encircled, and when the Russians feel encircled they get paranoid, and when they get paranoid they go to war. I've always believed Syria should be understood as part of the Russian sphere of influence, and left alone as long as it doesn't bother it's neighbors. But the Obama policy in Syria was to keep a revolution simmering, which did little but lead to an Islamic invasion of Europe and cost countless lives. It would have been better for everyone had we left Syria alone. I thought that then and think that now.
But our allies were demanding action, and it probably doesn't hurt to remind Russia that we can and will bring the hammer of God down on bad guys when they ask for it. Decisive action is always preferable to passivity in international affairs, because passivity is usually mistaken for cowardice or weakness. You have to remind everyone that you are neither.
So I'll excuse Trump's actions here, but it is a dangerous ploy and we have to worry about this thing turning ugly. One of these days everyone is going to make a serious miscalculation and the Big One is going to explode = and then shall come great tribulation.
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