Assad dropped no fewer than 12,958 barrel bombs in 2016 alone by one estimate. They’re much cheaper to make than precision bombs; they’re also far more likely to kill indiscriminately, which seems to suit him just fine. Whether they’re technically legal under international law or not is complicated, but because they rely on traditional explosives, there’s no serious argument that they qualify as WMD. Either way, if the Trump White House really does intend to draw a “red line” around barrel bombs, it means not only are we now prepared to intervene abroad on humanitarian grounds when certain forms of conventional weapons are used but we’re prepared to intervene a lot given Assad’s heavy reliance on barrel bombs to offset the weakness of his disintegrating ground forces.
Mattis put out a statement earlier this afternoon drawing his own “red line” more narrowly, around chemical weapons specifically:
Last week’s cruise missile strike took out 20 percent of Syria’s operational military aircraft, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in a statement Monday, adding that the “Syrian government would be ill-advised ever again to use chemical weapons.”
“The assessment of the Department of Defense is that the strike resulted in the damage or destruction of fuel and ammunition sites, air defense capabilities, and 20 percent of Syria’s operational aircraft,” Mattis said. “The Syrian government has lost the ability to refuel or rearm aircraft at Shayrat airfield and at this point, use of the runway is of idle military interest.”
Spicer was asked at the briefing this afternoon what the “Trump doctrine” was on foreign policy. Watch the second clip below and try to make sense of it in light of the first. To frame the Syria airstrike as an expression of an “America First” approach, you need to believe that the use of weapons of mass destruction anywhere, in any context, is a direct threat to U.S. national security interests, even though there’s not a nation on earth that would use WMD against the United States without an absolute certainty of ferocious reprisals. Spicer’s logic makes even less sense in the context of what he says about barrel bombs. If barrel bombs are a threat to U.S. national security (America First!), isn’t every foreign nation’s arsenal of conventional weapons a threat too?
It’s more accurate to say that Trump used to have an “America First” approach to foreign policy and now believes in humanitarian interventionism, especially when it lets him show up Barack Obama. Here’s what YouGov found when it asked voters if Trump’s Syria strikes were consistent with his Syria policy as a candidate:
Not so much. But for all the hype this weekend about Trump being criticized for the airstrike by his populist-nationalist fans on the right, today’s polls show solid Republican support for the operation. The CBS poll Ed wrote about this morning has GOPers split 84/11; Gallup is almost identical at 82/11; the YouGov poll, which asked people whether they approve of how Trump is handling Syria, saw Trump voters divide 80/9. He should be careful about further involvement, though: When YouGov asked if the U.S. has a responsibility to do something about the fighting in Syria, Trump voters split just 39/37. The “no barrel bomb” policy might be canceled before it ever gets going.
— Anno Bunnik (@Eurabist) April 10, 2017
— Ali Vitali (@alivitali) April 10, 2017