While we wait for answers, at least two things are clear. First, both Russia and the United States are downplaying the incident. If the Russians were testing American will, they got their answer, but there appears to be no American desire to retaliate or to escalate the confrontation into a full force-on-force encounter. This is encouraging, but not entirely comforting. When blood is spilled, the consequences are not always predictable or controllable.
Second, the situation in Syria is extraordinarily dangerous. It’s understandable that international eyes are focused on North Korea, but consider this: If reports of hundreds of Russian dead are correct, the American military just killed more Russians than it did in any single encounter throughout the entirety of the Cold War. That’s stunning. At present, a few thousand American troops are in the midst of the world’s most vicious war, rubbing up against hostile Russians, Syrians, Turks, Iranians, and Lebanese. Confrontations are inevitable. Proper management of those confrontations is not.
Therefore it’s more vital than ever that the Trump administration formulate and articulate a clear strategy for American involvement in Syria.