As recently as a week ago, the Trump administration seemed just fine with Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad — the man responsible for the murder, torture, and starvation that has led to 92 percent of civilian deaths in the Syrian war — staying in power. But as Trump’s numbers continued to plummet, the chemical attack happened. The timing couldn’t be more perfect.
Trump seized on the opportunity presented by the chemical attack to ostensibly brand himself as a strong and decisive leader in the face of atrocity abroad, hoping this will improve his historically dismal ratings, give him increased authority on the international stage, and also changed the narrative from claims that he is colluding with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On Thursday, president Donald Trump ordered the launch of 59 Tomahawk missiles on a government-controlled Syrian air force base in the Homs province. But when the dust cleared, it became evident that the missile attack was no more than a convenient distraction.
Trump’s attempt to fool everyone into believing his bogus motives for ordering the attack quickly backfired when it was reported that the White House informed Russia in advance of the strike, which obviously prompted Moscow to make a call to the Syrians immediately. This allowed the Syrian military to mobilize their aircraft, thereby rendering the mission a FAILURE.
Ordering the attack may be one of Trump’s most short-sighted actions in a presidency already full of them. Given the complexity of the war, it is hard to see what objective the strike itself accomplishes. If this is the only action Trump intends to take against Assad, it is not one that will deter the regime much.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Assad is already carrying out airstrikes again, contradicting US military reports of massive damage to the Syrian air force. The strike also didn’t decrease the Syrian government’s chemical weapons stockpiles, a depot reported to house the gas used in the attacks was not bombed.
That brings another factor to the equation: Did Russia plan the chemical Attack to help Trump with his approval ratings?
The Associated press just reported that the US military is investigating whether Russia took part in the chemical weapons attack that killed up to 100 Syrian civilians and sparked a barrage of missile strikes in response from the U.S.
US military officials at the Pentagon said a drone belonging to Russia or Syria was seen hovering over the site of the chemical weapons attack in Idlib province, according to the report.
Knowing that the attack would trigger international outrage, Putin may thus have calculated that allowing the American missile strike to go through would be easier to manage than yet another defense of Assad’s actions. If that allayed the accusations of collusion with Trump, so much the better.
This assumes, however, that Putin had no knowledge either of Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile or that Assad acted without Russian permission, both of which are unlikely. Assad’s survival depends on Russia, and it is doubtful he would do anything to jeopardize that support.
This has led some, such as MSNBC’s Chris Matthews to suggest that the chemical attack and its response were preordained, orchestrated by Putin and Trump in a vicious quid-pro-quo to kill the narrative that they were in cahoots.
This would also give Trump and Putin free reign to fight the proxy wars they need to boost their standings at home. Trump can have the role of strongman he so craves in fighting against Assad, while Putin can continue to present himself as the defender against Western aggression to his own people. A win-win, except for the hundreds of thousands of Syrians caught in the crossfire.