WASHINGTON – The world and the American people are waiting for answers to three questions prompted by President Trump’s attack on Syria. What did it prove? What did it change? What now?
First, some background:
According to international agencies such as the United Nations, and our own Congressional Research Service, there have been at least 60 chemical weapons attacks on the Syrian people, probably by the regime of dictator Bashar Assad, between Oct. 17, 2012, and now. Sixty.
Estimates of the war dead from those five years, according to the U.N. and other world groups, range from 321,000 to 457,000 Syrians, plus millions of wounded, and even more refugees.
Syria is not some stateless Bedouin wasteland like Libya became after the intervention by President Barack Obama.
Syria has a formal defense arrangement with the world’s second-most potent nuclear power, the Russian Federation, and agreements with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.
Syria has an army and an air force. They and the Russians have not been able to pacify Syria’s multiple warring factions despite a reported 5,000 sorties by Russian aircraft and missiles launched from Russian destroyers parked off the country’s coast.
One published report says Russian air attacks on Syrians total 60 a day. Russia is not only an ally of Assad, but has leased air bases and a naval port there. NBC News estimates there are already 1,600 to 4,500 Russian military personnel on the ground there.
The Syrian civil war involves at least two opposing factions of Kurds, a range of ever-changing jihadist groups ranging from ISIS, to al-Qaida, “rebels” and “freedom-fighters” whose allegiances shift like mercury, groups of Turks, Turkic fighters and elements even of the Lebanese Hezbollah.
Add to this Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, the Syrian armed forces and the Russians.
Until last Tuesday, it was Trump’s view that the U.S. should stay out of this. Then came the Sarin gas attack, the television coverage of the horrific suffering of scores of Syrians, including small children, and as Trump phrased it, “beautiful babies.” Trump said the chemical attack “crossed a lot of lines,” and he said it changed his mind about Syria. (But not about admitting Syrian refugees.)
Trump’s sudden proposal that the U.S. “do something” excited friends of our military. There is a phrase in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” in which Marc Antony, grieving over Caesar’s murder, whispers, “then let slip the dogs of war!”
The president’s change of heart, pardon the expression, left our latter day “dogs of war” salivating. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer could hardly wait until he interviewed Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who predictably urged missile strikes on Syria without consulting Congress.
Not to be outdone, Fox’s Brett Baier put on retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, who urged surface or subsurface missile strikes on Syria. Keane is also urging pre-emptive attacks on North Korea.
Even the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Rodham Clinton, told an interviewer we should attack Syria.
Democratic congressional principals, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, reflexively praised Trump’s order despite the fact that Trump did not consult any congressional leaders beforehand. Trump also did not consult them when he ordered 400 Marines into Syria a month ago.
Other than establishing a perimeter around that misbegotten country, the U.S. has no strategic or economic stake in Syria. Let Russia boil in that kettle. The attack proved nothing except that the military-industrial complex has our nation by the throat – again.