Any move premised on the idea that “Trump’s not crazy enough to do X” feels like a bad move to me.
If only we possessed precision munitions that could destroy the Syrian planes without threatening the Russian ones.
The movement of the aircraft to the air base at Bassel Al-Assad International Airport began shortly after the US’s April 6 Tomahawk cruise missile strike on Sharat air base, which destroyed some 24 Syrian warplanes in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack that the US says Syria launched from that airfield.
The move places the Syrian aircraft in close proximity to Russia’s Khmeimim Air Base — where the majority of Russian air forces helping ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime are based — in Latakia Governorate, Syria.
One US defense official said that the warplanes moved appeared to be most if not all of the Syrian government’s operational aircraft.
Imagine Assad’s surprise when the next U.S. airstrike targets the presidential palace, not his air force. (Nah, just kidding. Trump’s not crazy enough to do that.) Meanwhile, according to the best estimates of Israeli defense officials, Assad still has anywhere from one to three tons of chemical weapons stashed away somewhere. Where’d he get that? In all likelihood, he always had it. Remember, a Syrian general who used to head his chemical weapons program before defecting claimed last week that while the regime admitted to having 1,300 tonnes of sarin as part of its disarmament deal with the Obama White House, it actually had at least 2,000 tonnes — “at least,” he emphasized. Where’d the rest of it go? Some of it ended up in the lungs of people killed in Idlib a few weeks ago, some is likely still stashed away somewhere:
A senior military official says Israeli military intelligence estimates that Assad has “between one and three tons” of chemical weapons.
He spoke on condition of anonymity under military briefing rules. The assessment was confirmed by two other defense officials.
France’s foreign minister said today that French intelligence has evidence that the Syrian government did in fact carry out the attack in Idlib and that they’ll provide the proof in a matter of days. Will they prove that Assad himself gave the order, though? An Israeli official told Haaretz that it’s hard to believe Assad didn’t know about the strike in Idlib beforehand, which makes sense given the potential “red line” consequences to the regime in using sarin. If you have reason to believe that an operation might trigger a U.S. attack, you’d want the head of the regime to be prepared before it happens.
As for the prospect of future “red line” enforcement, today’s Quinnipiac poll — which is usually uniformly terrible for Trump — shows strong support for his Syrian airstrike and more evenly divided support for his handling of foreign policy towards Damascus. On the strike itself, the public splits 61/31; on Syria policy, it’s 49/45. Still, 62 percent say the airstrike won’t stop Assad from using chemical weapons again and a plurality of 49 percent says it’s not in America’s national interest to get involved in Syria. How do you square that with support for the airstrike? On moral terms, apparently: 52 percent say that the U.S. has a moral responsibility to get involved in Syria. Assad deserved to get slapped for humanitarian reasons, not for reasons of strong U.S. national interest. It’s not surprising that Americans feel that way, it is surprising that Donald “America First” Trump evidently agreed.
In lieu of an exit question, enjoy John Kerry assuring the world three years ago that “100 percent” of Syria’s declared chemical weapons had been removed. The undeclared ones, on the other hand…