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After days of speculation, the United States took action on Friday night to punish the Syrian regime for an alleged chemical weapons attack a week earlier . French, British and American forces launched a salvo of more than 100 missiles against three targets of the Syrian regime, and US officials claimed that the attack significantly degraded the regime's chemical weapons program.
Despite rumors of a more sustained air campaign against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the strike echoed the single bombing that Trump ordered a year ago. That attack also followed an alleged attack with chemical weapons, but what was intended to punish the Assad regime and its allies at that time did nothing of the sort.
However, Trump took to Twitter to greet the effectiveness of the attacks and declare "Mission accomplished!"
That's an unfortunate phrase for any US president with geopolitical ambitions in the Middle East, but it's particularly uncomfortable for Trump It seems that little has been achieved. There is still uncertainty as to exactly what was destroyed during this "puncture" strike, with some reports indicating that Assad's ability to use chemical weapons remains intact. Meanwhile, Assad supporters celebrated on the streets of Damascus on Saturday, waving Syrian flags and showing pictures of their leader.
The attack, my colleague Liz Sly wrote, was "interpreted in Syria as a victory for Assad because the limited scope" of the attacks suggested that the Western powers do not intend to challenge their government. "
On Sunday, the army Syrian declared that it had taken full control over East Ghouta.The area outside Damascus was besieged for years by the Assad regime and subjected to suspected attacks with chemical weapons, including the assault this month that killed dozens of civilians and triggered actions by The US This incident reportedly led the remaining rebels to surrender and agreed to be evacuated from the area, and regime officials crowed on Sunday that Eastern Ghouta was "completely free of terrorism."
Assad, it was Trump who spent the weekend on the edge of the abyss. He is besieged by scandals and intrigue, with his personal lawyer in the crosshairs of a fed investigation Eral and embarrassing embarrassments of the new book by the director of the FBI, James B. Comey, who dominates the American news cycle.
The missile attack had offered Trump another moment to change media attention and point out how he outdid his predecessor, who chose not to target the Syrian regime directly for using chemical weapons in 2013. White House members They told my colleagues that Trump believes that Syria is in its current state because President Barack Obama did not "enforce its red lines." He canceled a planned visit to Latin America to monitor the situation in the country as commander-in-chief of the nation.
But Trump spent Sunday furious against Comey whose comments appeared on all major morning television shows. The fleeting effects of the attack – and the lack of Trump's true strategy for Syria – also revealed how thin their positions are, especially if Assad manages to launch a new attack using nerve gas or other illicit weapons.
"The president's dilemma is that strength and resolution are not necessarily the same as a well-thought-out Syrian strategy," explained my colleague Greg Jaffe. "If Assad ignores the relatively modest military attack on Friday and uses chemical weapons, Trump faces a difficult decision – he can escalate, pulling the US military and his administration into a messy conflict that he recently said he wanted to abandon. and the risk seems weak. "
The Syrians wave the national flag and the portraits of Assad in the Umayyad Square in Damascus on Saturday. (Louai Beshara / AFP / Getty Images)
Obama also faced this commitment and tried to split the difference by supporting the Syrian rebels with billions of dollars in arms and other aid while preventing the US military from getting involved. too much in the conflict. But Trump moved to the final support for the rebels and intends to withdraw American troops from the country. Despite his enthusiasm for Friday's air strike, he has little apparent interest in taking over the Syrian final.
That frustrated some other prominent Republicans and helped foster skepticism about the punitive missile attack. "I'm afraid that when the dust settles, this attack will be seen as a weak military response and Assad will have paid a small price for using chemicals once again," said Senator Lindsey O. Graham (RS.C).
Neoconservatives and hawks also placed Trump on the same continuum of American "recklessness" supposedly exemplified by Obama. Eliot Cohen, a former State Department official in the administration of George W. Bush, argued that the United States could have crushed the "Syrian anti-aircraft defense system", knocking down planes and bases and killing a good number of military personnel on the ground , including Russians and Iranians.
Putin "would secretly fear a president who would do that, because he knows that military humiliation has caused the downfall of more than one tsar in the past," Cohen wrote. "So message received: the American enemy will prostrate and hit your chest, but is afraid to face you, even if your air force can fly yours from the sky and your army sink yours into the bottom of the sea."
Of course, there are many other analysts – including senior military officers – who are relieved that Trump chose moderation for a possible conflagration. But weekend events offered another reminder of the limits of the scope of Washington's action within "We believe it would be much bigger than this," said Ahmed Primo, a journalist and activist who lives in the Turkish city. from Gaziantep, to my colleagues, referring to the strike. "Assad could have used chemical weapons this time, but he has been indiscriminately attacking civilians for years … Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, hundreds of thousands of people have disappeared … After seven years of war, do not believe that someone will come to help the Syrian people. "
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