Trump’s Syrian hit the softest option vis-a-vis Russia

US President Donald Trump receives a briefing on the military strike on Syria from his National Security team, including a video teleconference with Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, on Thursday April 6, 2017, in Mar-a-Lago, Palm Beach, Florida. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead).

All the major English language media interpreted last week’s US strike of the Syrian air base with Tomahawk missiles, as a serious geostrategic action by Donald Trump carrying messages not only to Russia, but also to North Korea and even China. Nothing is less true than that. This was the least the new US President was supposed to do, after the despicable assault effectuated by the supported by Russia Syrian President Bashar al – Assad against his own people. Last Tuesday the Damascus chemical weapons hit the town of Khan Sheikhoun of the Idlib region, and torturously killed 70 people, amongst them 20 children and babies.

The images which shocked the world last week couldn’t be left unanswered by Washington. Otherwise the rumors about Putin’s mysterious leverage on Trump would have gained credibility. To be reminded, that in 2013 the Assad regime was forced to – theoretically- surrender all its chemical weaponry to UN inspectors. This was arranged after Damascus had repeatedly bombed its own people with chemical bombs. At that time, the global resentment against the Assad regime had reached an apex. As a result, Russia and China were convinced by the West to punish Assad.

Damascus did it again

Then Damascus was forced by a unanimous UN Security Council decision to undersign the Chemical Weapons Convention, accept UN controllers on her soil and finally deliver her chemical arsenal. Last Tuesday, it became clear though that all that were sheer hypocrisy and lies. The main force against the 2013 UN action against Assad was Washington. Now, it would have been a disgrace for America, if the latest attack with chemicals against civilians had being unanswered, no matter if Moscow is one hundred percent in support of Assad.

At this point, it must be also reminded that during the 2016 US Presidential electoral race Trump had repeatedly expressed his admiration for Russia and Putin. His adversary, Hillary Clinton, was adamant against any relaxation of America’s tough stance vis-à-vis Russia in both friction zones, Ukraine and Syria. Clinton had proposed that the US should directly threaten or even effectively counter the Russian fighter jets operating in Syria in support of Assad, battering the rebels backed by the West.

Too soft on Russia

No need to remind here the latest developments in Washington, where the Trump administration and the new US President himself came under suspicion for secret dealings with Moscow. James Comey, the head of the FBI, informed the relevant Senate committee, that members of the administration are investigated by the US security services, for unlawful or treasonous contacts with Russians. Michael Flynn, Trump’s security advisor for three weeks was forced to resign for murky and illegal contacts with the Russians. He had personal relations with Putin and had delivered paid speeches in Moscow. Trump’s personal pick as Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, was forced to recuse himself from such investigations implicating relations with Russia, as being himself involved.

Given, then, that some action was necessary, after Assad’s new atrocity with chemical gas bombs on civilians, Trump choose the least effective option. He ordered the US armed forces to hit the Syrian military airfield from which the airplane had set off to drop its atrocious load at night with Tomahawk missiles. Trump made sure that the hit was carried at night, when personnel presence was minimum and no Russian advisors were going about.

Notifying Russia

The Russian air force also uses this airfield and its pilots are quartered a bit further afar in the periphery. Still, Washington, under Trump, made sure that no Russian personnel or fighter planes come under American fire, by timely informing Moscow about the hit. In this way, Washington made sure that her duty to the American people and the world was superficially served, and at the same time the USRussia relations are not threatened. Of course, Moscow felt obliged to loudly protest against the American action all along this past week. However, Rex Tillerson the US State Secretary, has not canceled his visit to Moscow, scheduled for this week.

This limited American reaction to the latest use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime against its own people was then in many ways tolerable from a geostrategic point of view, and consequently it carried no stern messages to Moscow, Pyongyang or Beijing. To this date, there have been noisy Russian protests from Foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. President Vladimir Putin waited until yesterday to react to the US hit.  He probably didn’t want to  combat this Trump action right away. Putin’s Russia also didn’t react last January after former President Barack Obama had expelled 34 Russian diplomats as spies. It was only a few days before Trump was to take the oath and obviously Putin didn’t want to make things difficult for the new President.

In conclusion, the American hit against Assad doesn’t constitute a widening of the US policy targets in Syria and the wider region, nor does it carry any new and severe messages to the world. Yesterday afternoon, Rex Tillerson ,in an interview with CBS channel had nothing to say against Assad remaining in power, even when asked directly on that. This is in direct contrast to what severe Hillary Clinton would have done opposing Russia and Assad, had she won the last November election.

 

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