Talk about a 180 from Obama!
The U.S. isn’t playing games anymore. Our leaders mean what they say now.
We have put Bashar al-Assad on notice, saying we will take further military action if he uses chemical weapons again.
U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, told a special session of the U.N. security council:
“The United States will no longer wait for Assad to use chemical weapons without any consequences. Those days are over.
“The United States took a very measured step last night. We are prepared to do more, but we hope that will not be necessary.”
However, White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, will not disclose any next steps, military or diplomatic.
He did call the missile strike on the airbase “very decisive, justified and proportional” and entirely justified by “humanitarian purposes”.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson insisted before the missile strike that diplomatic steps to oust Assad were already “under way”. However, Spicer was reluctant to say whether Assad had to leave power.
“At a minimum, [Assad has to agree] to abide by agreements not to use chemical weapons.”
He did not say what, if any, further objectives the US had in Syria, even as Trump came under renewed congressional pressure to present a comprehensive strategy for the US in the Syrian conflict.
On Saturday, the Iraqi government confirmed US vice-president Mike Pence discussed Syria and the fight against the Islamic State with the country’s prime minister, Haider al-Abadi.
America’s mixed signals on Assad are likely to unsettle or disappoint the Syrian opposition that initially viewed the strike as a glimmer of hope amid a relentless onslaught.
Now Trump has found himself in a hard place, with congress asking to escalate militarily – and from Russia to back down.
And we won’t have to wait long to see what will happen.
Tillerson is scheduled to travel to Moscow next week for talks, which will definitely include Syria.
In the meantime, the Pentagon is attempting to revive a military communications hotline between the U.S. and Russia.
By shutting down the so-called deconfliction channel after the missile strike on Russia’s Syrian client, Vladimir Putin has dared Trump to choose between attacking Assad and attacking Isis, Trump’s priority.
The military channel is pivotal for ensuring US and Russian pilots avoid accidentally colliding, confronting one another in midair or attacking each other’s forces or proxies in north-eastern Syria. It also has a significant political component, according to former defense officials: to ensure competing air wars in Syria do not accidentally spiral into a confrontation between two nuclear powers.
We have a long road ahead of us.
At the U.N. security council session, Russia’s deputy envoy, Vladimir Safronkov, gave a warning to the U.S. saying the “consequences for international stability could be extremely serious”.
“It’s not hard to imagine how much the spirits of the terrorists have been raised by this attack.”
Now Russia’s defense ministry claims it will beef up air defenses in Syria.
A Russian defense ministry spokesman, Maj Gen Igor Konashenkov, said a “complex of measures” would be carried out shortly to “protect the most sensitive Syrian infrastructure facilities”.
The Russian navy was reported to be sending a frigate aimed with cruise missiles to Tartus, on the Syrian coast.
Konashenkov insisted that the effectiveness of the US strike was “very low”, claiming 23 of the 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles reached the airbase, and destroyed only six MiG-23 fighter jets which were under repair, but didn’t damage other Syrian warplanes at the base.
Yet, the US military insists all but one of the missiles reached their targets.
Thankfully, the U.S. was supported by our allies:
The US was supported by its western allies and Turkey. France’s president, François Hollande, and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said Assad bore “sole responsibility” for provoking the missile strike.
The UK’s defense secretary, Michael Fallon, said the strike was “wholly appropriate”. He added that the UK would not be directly involved in any military action without parliamentary approval. Fallon said he had been in “close discussions” with his US counterpart, James Mattis, but stopped short of claiming to have been consulted on the decision.
Even Democrats in Congress who normally oppose Trump, were on his side with this.
The aftermath of the strikes saw congressional pressure, even from Democrats normally opposed to Trump, for the White House to escalate its involvement in Syria’s brutal civil war. Several legislators pressed Trump to deliver a strategy to guide future US action and welcomed a renewed debate for congressional authorization of future strikes, a measure that failed in 2013 when Barack Obama proposed it.
“I fully support a robust US role in ending the Syrian civil war as soon as possible,” said the Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein, who asked Trump for a “comprehensive strategy to end Syria’s civil war”.