|Tomahawk cruise missile|
The United States under President Trump launched its first strike against Syria, launching 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles with 1,000lb warhead each to hit the Al-Sharyat air base outside Homs. The US military has been active in Syria for many years since the start of the war in 2011, but past strikes have only hit terror groups (ISIL, Nusra, other al-Qaeda offshoots) and ground troops were merely acting as "advisors" behind the front lines. This time it's different, as it directly hit assets of the Assad regime -- a close, longtime ally of Russia and Iran.
The strike on Thursday was a decisive response to the chemical weapons attack in Idlib that killed 70 civilians the previous Tuesday. In formulating this strike, the US military worked to avoid casualties on any sides by giving advance notice to Russians and Syrians and striking at 3am local time. The intent is to "send a clear message", destroy infrastructure of war while minimizing risk of unintended escalation. No suspected chemical weapons depot was targeted, since there would have been risk of exposing poisonous plume to civilians in the area (these chemicals would normally be destroyed safely at sea). Note: local reports say that although several airplanes, fuel depots, and reinforced hangars were destroyed, regime planes were still taking off of the runway after the strike -- leading POTUS to respond that he chose not to hit the runway because it was "easy to fix" ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
In the aftermath of 2013's deadly chemical weapons attack in Ghouta that massacred 1,400, then-President Obama wanted to avoid committing military resources to Syria when Iraq and Afghanistan still needed significant attention. The Russian-led agreement that followed, in which Syria surrendered all* of its chemical weapons arsenal in return for US military standing down, was a knockout victory for Assad since he received carte blanche to continue killing with impunity -- bullets, rockets and barrel bombs kill just fine. (*Now we can all see that either Assad still keeps a hidden cache, and/or the country still has industrial capacity to produce chlorine/sarin gas). After 2013, Assad and Russia knew the US had no willpower to interfere in Syria, and Fmr. Secretary of State John Kerry's delegation was degraded into begging the Russians to allow humanitarian aid into besieged places like Eastern Aleppo.
Is this missile strike against Assad the right move by Trump? Only time will tell. However, most Obama-era team involved in the Syria deliberations, including most notably Fmr Secretary of State Hillary Clinton(!!) and her successor John Kerry, supported the move. Obviously the old way is not working. If the strike can give the US more leverage in future negotiations, then consider this a successful mission. But if this leads to retaliation by Russia or Iran, or an emboldened Assad, then we will see the American response or maybe just fingerpointing in the coming weeks. However, one thing is certain: inaction is *not* neutral. "Do no harm", or in Obama lingo "don't do stupid shit", can lead to tremendous harm -- if the Syrian war has taught us anything, this is the main, costly, painful lesson.