Questions are now being asked about what may happen in Syria now after the US military intervened by launching a missile strike against a Syrian military target. That sort of attack is generally considered to be an act of war.
There seems to be consensus on one thing – it’s very difficult to predict what President Trump might do. Some may see him as cunningly concealing his intentions, others worry about how erratic and reactive he can be,
Until this week Trump has been strongly against direct US military involvement in Syria. It seems that one gas attack in which civilians including children were killed Trump changed his mind and chose to attack.
Fox News on The story behind Trump’s ’72-hour evolution’
The timeline of the president’s decision-making and the mission itself was detailed late Friday by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and other U.S. officials. The president’s top spokesman described the course of events as a “72-hour evolution” that involved “updates and options and refinements” before a final decision.
“He’s not going to telegraph his next move,” Spicer cautioned, but described Thursday’s actions as carefully planned, decisive and “justified.”
According to Spicer and other officials, the timeline played out as follows:
Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. ET: Trump was informed during his daily briefing about the suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria. Trump asked his team for more information. The team developed “initial” options.
Tuesday at 8 p.m.: Preliminary options were “presented and refined.”
Wednesday morning: Another “restricted principals meeting” was held where options were further reviewed and refined.
Wednesday at 3 p.m.: Trump was briefed on updated options at a national security meeting. He reviewed them, asked questions, and requested more information – including options for strikes on Syria.
Thursday at 1:30 p.m.: En route to Florida, Trump convened his national security team aboard Air Force One.
Thursday at 4 p.m.: Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and others met in a secure room in Palm Beach. The president “gave the okay” to move ahead. This decision was made at about 4:30 p.m.
Thursday at 7:40 p.m.: Navy destroyers in the Mediterranean launched Tomahawk missiles into Syria.
It’s far too soon to tell if the attack was ‘decisive’. Trump may have been decisive (“having or showing the ability to make decisions quickly and effectively”) in deciding to launch the missiles against Syria, it’s far from certain that the result has been decisive (“settling an issue; producing a definite result”).
In fact Trump has not settled an issue, nor has he produced a definite result. There is a Russian warship steaming towards the Syrian coast in what is seen as an escalation of the Syrian war and a serious threat to already difficult relations between the US and Russia.
The missile strike was merely a small military ‘battle’ in a long running war that doesn’t look like it will end any time soon.
And if fighting does eventually cease in Syria it will be a mess that is very difficult to repair, structurally, politically or socially.
Could there be follow-up attacks from Trump? And will Russian support for Assad remain firm?
Is regime change in Syria back on the US agenda?
For most of Syria’s six-year civil war the US has been pushing for the departure of Bashar al-Assad, even if former president Barack Obama was unwilling to use military options to remove him.
Donald Trump had conspicuously backed away from that stance, with his administration describing Assad’s rule as “political reality” shortly before the chemical weapons attack.
His team have been careful to present Friday’s missile strikes as a contained response to a specific atrocity, intended as a deterrent to further chemical weapons use. But Trump is nothing if not unpredictable.
Could there be follow-up attacks from the US?
Russia has already said it will help Syria boost its air defences, a clear signal to Washington that further intervention carries a serious risk of escalation.
Will the campaign against Islamic State be affected?
In the short term, the push for Raqqa and Mosul, the final two urban strongholds of Isis, is unlikely to be seriously affected.
Will Russian support for Assad remain firm?
Russia has often said its support for Assad is conditional. Moscow’s desire for a sympathetic government in Syria is likely to be more important than the survival of the Syrian president himself.
Do these missile strikes mean an end to Trump’s ‘reset’ of relations with Russia
Trump came to power promising a reset of ties with Russia, and openly expressing his admiration for president Vladimir Putin.
The military strikes, accompanied by blunt criticism of Russia’s failure to stop Assad deploying chemical weapons, appear to have upended that relationship.
It’s possible that after investing heavily in Trump, Putin may want to try and contain disagreements over Syria and focus on bolstering the overall relationship with cooperation in other areas.
What are the military risks if the US is drawn further into the Syrian conflict?
If the US decides to carry out further strikes, or take other military action against Assad, one of the main worries it that it could hit a Russian plane or soldiers.
What are the political risks of greater US involvement in the Syrian civil war?
One of the questions those opposed to Assad’s rule have struggled to answer for years is what Syria would look like if he was removed.
The struggle to imagine a Syria without Assad was one of the main reasons Obama was reluctant to intervene in support of rebels, and that has not changed.
US ability to project power, badly damaged by the disastrous outcome of the Iraq invasion, could also be at stake, along with the country’s slowly recovering economy.
The US can easily win one sided battles, but it’s hard to see there being any winners in the Syrian war. It is already lost.
A New York Times editorial also asks: After the Airstrikes on Syria, What’s Next?
It was hard not to feel some sense of emotional satisfaction, and justice done, when American cruise missiles struck an airfield in Syria on Thursday.
Americans seem to get satisfaction from showing off their military power.
But it is also hard not to feel unsettled by the many questions raised by President Trump’s decision. Among them: Was it legal? Was it an impetuous, isolated response unrelated to a larger strategy for resolving the complex dilemma of Syria, a nation tormented not just by civil war but also by the fight against the Islamic State?
So far, there is no evidence that Mr. Trump has thought through the implications of using military force or figured out what to do next.
I doubt that he has.
For a man who had campaigned on an “America First” platform of avoiding entanglements in overseas conflicts and who repeatedly warned his predecessor, Barack Obama, against military action in Syria, Mr. Trump made a breathtaking turnaround in the space of 63 hours after the chemical attack.
Mr. Trump explained the shift by saying that he had been so deeply moved by television footage of child victims gasping for breath that “my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.”
However sincere this sentiment, the spectacle of a president precipitously reversing course on war and peace on the basis of emotion or what his defenders describe as “instinct” does not inspire confidence.
To the contrary.
Trump and US military supporters may like his willingness to react to an atrocity with a military strike.
But Trump and US military opponents now now he is easily provoked into taking escalating action.
What if there is another gas attack in Syria? Or some other event that is deemed more atrocious than bombing buildings and people to rubble?
Trump has set a precedent, and if he doesn’t react militarily again he will appear weak or inconsistent.
This also works wider than Syria. What if there is a gas attack in Iraq? Yemen? Afghanistan? Pakistan? Israel? What would Trump do then?
North Korea? What easier way would there be for someone (it doesn’t really matter who) to drop a gas bomb on Korea (North or South would suffice) to kick off a war there?
A bomb wouldn’t even have to be dropped, it would only need to be threatened. The White House has already said they wouldn’t rule out a pre-emptive attack on North Korea.
Trump may think he has been decisive, but his action could have very complicated consequences.
Sounding tough, and acting tough, can be easy with single events and reactions. But it has established a precedent that Trump may have a lot of difficulty dealing with now, and not just in Syria.