As a strong supporter of President Trump and his policy goals I was surprised by the talk of military action against Bashr al-Assad and his government that started to emanate from Washington DC beginning Wednesday night. Most Americans recognize the debacle that Syria has become and regard the mess as partly the result of the previous administration’s failed foreign policy. The last thing we want is to become embroiled fully in the tinderbox which Syria has become.
As a foreign policy advisor and geopolitical expert, on the other hand, I agreed with the tone and message on Syria that was coming from Secretary of State Tillerson and President Trump. Bashar al-Assad crossed a line by using chemical weapons against his own people. His actions demanded a firm, immediate response which would affirm that further use of chemical weapons by Syria will not be tolerated.
As an American I fully support the cruise missile strikes against targets in Syria. After eight years of the previous administration’s penchant for leading from behind, last night the United States of America reclaimed its place as leader of the Free World. The military action ordered by President Trump was measured, limited, and delivered the proper message to Assad, Russia, and our allies across the globe. It was not a shot across the bow, or the implementation of a ‘red line,’ but a justified punishment and message to Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies.
What comes next is not as clear-cut as last night’s US action was. Tillerson spoke in broad terms yesterday about a coalition forming to stop Assad. He also said Russia has been either complicit or incompetent in reining in the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons. The cruise missile strikes certainly raise the prospect of the proxy war in Syria heating up and will certainly raise tensions before Tillerson leaves next week for a visit to Moscow.
On the topic of Russia, today Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced the attack as “aggression against a sovereign state in violation of the norms of international law.” Russia’s Ministry of Defense also stated its intention to increase the capabilities of Syria’s air defense system following the attack. At current, Syria’s air defenses are centered around single-digit Soviet manufactured Surface to Air missiles from the Cold War era like the SA-5 and SA-4. These systems are very limited in their abilities to contend with cruise missiles such as the Tomahawk. In comparison, Russia’s newer double-digit SAM systems such as the SA-21 Growler, which is currently defending Russian forces in Syria, has the ability to detect and engage low flying cruise missiles.
Over the weekend we’ll take a look at some of the other topics emerging from the US strike, as well as try and chart in more specific detail what might come next in Syria, and for US-Russian relations.