Sunday, April 15, 2018


Some of the incoming fire was coming from Democrats, but much of it was coming from the conservative commentariat. Fear and trembling overtook these otherwise clear thinkers as they rejected the Trump administration response to Bashar al-Assad's gassing his people and called for a revival of Obama administration policies. We forgive them... because they did not understand what they were doing.

But, Syria-sly. Pronounced as: Syria-slee.

Given the Obama administration retreat from world leadership— in favor of occupying the moral high ground— the Trump administration launched a limited attack on Syria in order to show that it was in the game, that it was not going to cower in a bunker because Vladimir Putin threatened to retaliate. 

Moscow had been sending the message out for days. Many wise heads were terrified at the chance that the conflict might escalate. They were unwilling to take even a minimal risk to get America back in the Middle Eastern game. After all, the Obama administration had walked out of Iraq and had effectively ceded Syria to Russia and Iran. If you do not think that American interest is at issue, you are not Syria-s.

One understands that the Trump administration seemed to bumble its way into this. The president made a mistake when he declared that he wanted out of Syria. I do not know whether Bashar al-Assad saw it as an invitation to gas his people, but if he did Trump had a duty to correct his blunder.

Unfortunately, some great conservative minds saw the issue in terms of a false dichotomy. They saw the choices as: do nothing or declare war and invade Syria. Such was the conceptual framework that led to the Obama administration debacle in the Middle East.

Instead Trump showed himself to be both resolute and thoughtful. He acted in concert with allies in Great Britain and France, thus demonstrating leadership qualities that the popular and much loved Barack Obama never showed. And Trump ordered an attack that avoided, as much as possible Russian targets and Russian personnel.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the administration had handled the situation deftly—finding a middle ground between underreaction and overreaction:

In carrying out airstrikes in Syria on Saturday, the U.S. and its allies were trying to maintain a careful balance: upholding their red line against the use of chemical weapons, without crossing Moscow’s red lines against toppling President Bashar al-Assad or targeting Russian forces.

But the attack was narrowly focused, seeking to cripple Mr. Assad’s chemical-weapons infrastructure without triggering a broader conflict with Russia and Iran.

“This is not about intervening in a civil war,” said British Prime Minister Theresa May. “It is not about regime change. It is about a limited and targeted strike that does not further escalate tensions in the region and that does everything possible to prevent civilian casualties.”

And also:

Earlier in the week, a Russian diplomat said his country’s forces would shoot down U.S. missiles launched at Syria, and Mr. Trump retaliated on Twitter, saying U.S. technology would triumph over Russian defenses. The exchange raised the prospect of a clash between Washington and Moscow, though the U.S. and Russian militaries appeared to be looking for a way to avoid a confrontation.

The U.S. didn’t notify the Russians about the targets, but it reduced the risk of a clash with the Russian air force by letting their commanders know what airspace American and allied forces would be using—a process the Pentagon dubs “deconfliction.”

For now, we do not know whether or not Russia will retaliate, but we do know that it’s opening diplomatic gambit was to call an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council.  Does it mean that Putin is a paper bear? Does it mean that he wanted to be chastised, yet again, by the clear speaking Nikki Haley? Time will tell.

I credit Claudia Rosett with one of the most astute analyses of the crisis. She began her PJ Media account by underscoring that the Trump administration needed to take a consequential action because it needed to announce to the world, yet again, that the Obama era of American feckless pusillanimity is over.

Rosett wrote:

Leading from in front, President Trump is finally redrawing the red line that President Obama erased in 2013. Whatever the threats and criticisms that will surely follow, the world will be safer for it. The vital message is that America is no longer the hamstrung giant of the Obama era. Tyrants such as Syria's Bashar al-Assad, and his patrons in Moscow and Tehran, have been served notice that it would be unwise to continue to assume that America will waffle, appease or simply retreat while they take upon themselves the shaping -- to monstrous effect -- of the 21st-century world order.

Rosett understood well that the issue was less about saving children from being gassed than about balance of powers diplomacy—thus about taking a leadership role in the game of international politics. As it happens, the image of gassed children works well as a rhetorical hook, but the issues are wider and more consequential:

But whatever your views on protecting children in a far-off land from the hideous effects of chemical weapons, there is a larger, strategic reason for trying to stop Assad. Syria, with its liberal use of chemical weapons, has been setting a horrific precedent -- repeatedly violating the Chemical Weapons Convention to which Damascus acceded in 2013, and eroding the longstanding international taboo against chemical warfare. This is dangerous way beyond Syria. As Haley told the UN Security Council: "All nations and all people will be harmed if we allow Assad to normalize the use of chemical weapons."

Lest we forget, the Obama administration guaranteed that it had signed a deal with Russia to remove all chemical weapons from Syria. Only dumbass John Kerry and his boss Barack Obama could have believed such a thing. Naturally, they were suckered by Vladimir Putin. Why else would they be presenting themselves today as fierce anti-Russian warriors? How better to cover up their own cowardly weakness.

Rosett continued:

In theory, the United Nations was supposed to prevent this, ensuring in tandem with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons that Assad would give up all his chemical weapons -- with the specific oversight and guarantees of Russia, under a deal cut in 2013 by Obama and Putin. As I explained in an article earlier this week for The Hill, the UN has failed utterly, thanks to Putin's cynical exploitation of the entire setup. Russia used the chemical weapons disarmament deal as a portal for its own military entry into Syria in support of Assad, and has since been using its veto on the UN Security Council, along with a torrent of Kremlin propaganda, to run diplomatic cover for Assad.

As for what the raid accomplished, Rosett explains that its primary target was apparently the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center. She explains that it was “an incredibly high value target:”

But the first target on Dunford's list had a very familiar ring. He described it as "a scientific research center located in the greater Damascus area." He added: "This military facility was a Syrian center for the research, development, production and testing of chemical and biological warfare technology."

That sure sounds like the notorious Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center, also known as the SSRC. In which case there can be no doubt that these air strikes were aimed at an incredibly high-value target, an outfit central to some of the worst depravities of Assad's weapons programs, and -- as it happens -- a longtime client of North Korea and Iran.

She continued:

If the SSRC was indeed struck and destroyed, the likely benefits are enormous. That would deprive Assad of one of the most diabolical laboratories of his evil regime, quite likely providing a big setback to his chemical weapons program, with the two-fer that it might also have zapped his bioweapons program. It would also send a useful message to everyone from the SSRC's suppliers, such as Iran and North Korea, to such predatory dictators as Russia's Putin and China's Xi Jinping. Destroying the SSRC with air strikes ought to drive home, in a way that no amount of UN debate and no quantity of sanctions designations ever could, that these days the U.S. and its allies are serious about their red lines.

Fair enough, America does not seem to have a strategy. It will need to develop a strategy. Of course, it will need a new Secretary of State before it happens. We are heartened that it has chosen Mike Pompeo, a man of exceptional intelligence and experience. We are disheartened that a certain number of Republican cranks are threatening to defeat the nomination... but we hope that they will come to their senses before they do something stupid.

Consider the Trump action a step in the right direction. You might even consider it another chance to correct its failure to develop a strategy after its last attack on Assad's military. But, you have to be in the game before you have a game plan. The administration’s ability to coordinate diplomatically and to attack Assad without forcing an immediate Russian response should some skill and some sober judgment. We await the follow-up.


Ares Olympus said...
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Ares Olympus said...
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Ares Olympus said...
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Ares Olympus said...

I'm confused. Apparently a 99 word reply to 1553 word blog post is too much.

Anonymous said...


You should be thanking Stuart, but I suspect you are so lacking in all the characteristics of being self aware that you will not understand. After reading one of your comments I was amazed at how antiseptic it was in its tone and demeanor.
I'll just say that I was very knowledgeable and conversant with NBC, et al and the one that bothers me the most was/is chemical weapons and their use. You really need to do some thinking and analyzation of your underlying principles.
I cannot relate how sad I was to read your comments.

Ares Olympus said...

Anon, my principles are that mistakes can't be undone, and we must get our facts right before we act. Sending missiles based on weak evidence encourages the enemies of Syria's leadership to imagine how to manufacture more weak evidence. Unless you have someone trusted on the ground seeing what's happened, you don't know what happened.

And if Trump's emotionalism is being manipulated, I'm right to be concerned. I'm generally trusting of official news sources, but in cases of war, we've proven over and over that narratives blind us all and we see what we want to see.

Sam L. said...

"Given the Obama administration retreat from world leadership— in favor of occupying the SO-CALLED moral high ground—... (Fixed it for you.)

"Lest we forget, the Obama administration guaranteed that it had signed a deal with Russia to remove all chemical weapons from Syria." Your basic worthless Obama guarantee (remembering "keep your health-care plan" and "keep your doctor"). Well, actually, it is possible there was a US signature on the deal, but not a Russian signature.

Anonymous said...

Schneiderman, you have finally come to your senses and begun shutting down AO. This is good, because he’s been destroying your blog. So much excellent writing by you. Thoughtful nand witty input by so many commenters here. Sadly, a number of the solid regular commenters seem to have disappeared. You will see greater readership and additional commentary when you get rid of this troll forever.

Anonymous said...

AO: “Unless you have someone trusted on the ground seeing what's happened, you don't know what happened.”

Case in point. Yet another footnote on AO’s epistemology that begets he lack of humility, self awareness and experience.

Anonymous said...

And the fact that you took the time to count the words in our host’s blog post to justify your never ending stream of unconsciousness is patently ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

Hope you enjoyed the Comey interview. You two are perfect for each other.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, I was not on the moon when Americans landed there though I did spend a number of years station at the Cape. I can only go by history and what I know. Assad has used chemical weapons a significant number of times agains't people who cannot defend themselves. Ergo, since the French, I suspect both the Americans and English as well, have said they know Assad used them this time, there is more than ample evidence to make a decision on. The vote in the UN is instructive.
I amazed that part of your so called reasoning is that DJT is just too compassionate and that you would rather side with the dread Russians.
I will stop here because I know how much you enjoy "negative reinforcement."
Bye the Bye I am not the other Anons.

Anonymous said...

Before the strike the only real question was : Will the Russians shoot back and if they do will it be serious?
Now the only real question after the strike is: Why didn't the Russians shoot?
I will speculate.
Putin knew that the US would probably tie itself into knots trying not to hit any Russians, so little danger. If the Russians had shot and missed it would be bad in so many ways. Better not to shoot and keep that uncertainty. It also gave Putin a good chance to show the Syrians and the Iranians (who are heavily dependent on Russian air cover) what could happen if it was withdrawn for any reason.

Ares Olympus said...
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Ares Olympus said...

(A 92 word reply to a 137 word reply is reasonable!)
Anon@5:50AM ... Taking sides when you're ignorant is always a tough choice, and I don't even blame Trump for letting his emotionalism go against his gut feelings a week earlier that we should leave. Trump has to make hard decisions that I don't have to make, and if he's being manipulated, I have no evidence I could resist in his place. BUT I'd demand we find out afterwards.

The problem with "bomb first" is we have an incentive to assume our conclusions and ignore evidence that threatens to make our actions wrongful.