The debate over Syria, deliberately downplayed by both major US political parties during the 2016 presidential election, has rekindled. Critics on both sides of the aisle claim US president Donald Trump erred. Allies in the region bordering Syria are praising Trump.
Those who agree with bombing an air base in the war-torn country believe Trump acted with decisiveness and the show of military power was necessary. It is a rare day that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has anything good to say about Trump, but on the matter of the airstrikes, McCain had nothing but praise.
Included in the discussion is a strangely timed statement by Hillary Clinton and an admission of sorts from Russia.
In an interview CNN posted shortly ahead of the US strike, Clinton said the US should “take out Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s Air Force…days after a chemical attack killed more than 70 people…”
It’s impossible to view that statement and not wonder whether Mrs. Clinton still has friendly sources within the government intelligence complex.
One Mideast analyst, Oubai Shahbandar, tweeted:
“Shayrat was also known chemical weapon storage facility back then [in 2013]. Obama admin likely knew that CW stockpile was never fully recovered.”
While President Barack Obama may have privately “known” that, publicly the administration lauded “diplomacy with Russia” as a plus in getting Syria “to voluntarily and verifiably give up its chemical weapons stockpile.”
None other than Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, made that statement. Rice also said:
“We were able to find a solution that didn’t necessitate the use of force that actually removed the chemical weapons that were known from Syria, in a way that the use of force would never have accomplished. Our aim in contemplating the use of force following the use of chemical weapons in August of 2013 was not to intervene in the civil war, not to become involved in the combat between Assad and the opposition, but to deal with the threat of chemical weapons by virtue of the diplomacy that we did with Russia and with the Security Council.”
Russia did not take kindly to the air strikes, but prior to news breaking in the US, one official blamed Obama. The Hill reported:
“Vladimir Safronkov, Russia’s deputy deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, maintained that the Obama administration’s “red lines” may have encouraged terrorists to take advantage of the situation in Syria.
“The former U.S. administration’s so-called red lines, which should have triggered a military interference in the internal Syrian conflict if crossed, marked a watershed in the history of toxic chemicals in Syria and followed by full-blown poisonous substances,” Safronkov said during a session of the United Nations Security Council, as reported by Taas news agency.”
Reuters and other media reported the location of the targeted air base as “mostly controlled by rebel groups at the border with Turkey.”
In hindsight, the Reuters interview with Syria Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem is ironic. The official asserted Syria would set terms for investigations after the chemical weapons hit civilians. Trump’s action upended that claim.
While senators in the US like Rand Paul (R-KY) have criticized Trump’s action, based on grounds Syria posed no threat to the US, there’s another dimension to the issue no media are talking about.
According to the CIA World Fact Book, the civil war in Syria has led to approximately 13.5 million people “in need of humanitarian assistance.” Another 6.3 million have been “displaced internally.” Syrian refugees totally approximately 4.8 million. These numbers impact surrounding countries as people flee the war. What impact might that have on national security since it is impossible to vet individuals coming from a country with little stability right now?
Pundits and some analysts say a safe zone should be established in the region. However, it is impossible to achieve that if chemical weapons are available and if the fighting continues.
The instability and refugees also pose problems for countries that border Syria—Israel, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey.
At present, armchair ‘experts’ on social media are debating Trump’s decision. Some have questioned whether it was legal. Whatever the case, there is plenty of precedent dating to the Korean War. Even the far left publication Slate, analyzing Obama’s powers, admitted, “Obama can bomb pretty much anything he wants to”:
“Obama used military force in Libya in 2011; Bill Clinton, in Serbia in 1999; George H.W. Bush, in Panama in 1989; and Ronald Reagan, in Grenada in 1983. In all these cases, and many more (including the Korean War), Congress did not give its consent.”
According to the CIA WFB, “In December 2012, the Syrian National Coalition, was recognized by more than 130 countries as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people.” Peace talks were attempted between the SNC and the Asad regime in 2016, but they did not produce desired results.
The WFB noted that due to the displaced persons and refugees, “the Syrian situation [is] the largest humanitarian crisis worldwide.”
Whatever the verdict on Trump’s decision, one conclusion is sound. All the chemical weapons were not removed, evidenced by a statement sourced to the Kremlin contained in a Yahoo news article:
“But the Kremlin insists Assad’s government wasn’t responsible for the attack, saying civilians in Khan Sheikhoun were exposed to toxic agents from a rebel arsenal that was hit by Syrian warplanes.
[Secretary of State Rex] Tillerson said Russia had “failed in its responsibility” to deliver on a 2013 deal it helped broker to destroy Syria’s chemical arsenal.
“So either Russia has been complicit, or Russia has been simply incompetent on its ability to deliver,” he said.
(Analysis by Kay B. Day/April 7, 2017)