Thursday, June 29, 2017

And Six Years On, in Syria ....

"We have observed activities at Shayrat airbase that suggest possible intent by the Syrian regime to use chemical weapons again."
"[The region is threatened by Assad's] brutality."
Marine Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway, Pentagon spokesman

"I am not aware of any information about a threat that chemical weapons can be used."
"Certainly, we consider such threats to the legitimate leadership of the Syrian Arab Republic unacceptable."
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov  
US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Ross (DDG 71) fires a tomahawk land attack missile in Mediterranean Sea.
Donald Trump's missile attack was a very direct act of controlled aggression with a clear note attached. Tomahawk missile attack, April 4, 2017. Reuters: US Navy/Robert S Price
"The United States has identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children." "The activities are similar to preparations the regime made before its April 4, 2017, chemical weapons attack."
"As we have previously stated, the United States is in Syria to eliminate the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. If, however, Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price."
White House press secretary, Sean Spicer

"It is unusual we would warn them -- even more unusual in a White House statement."
"It has serious consequences. We are saying 'we are watching you, we can see you, don’t do it.' The United States would have to respond. Otherwise it raises serious credibility problems."
Jon Wolfsthal, (former) senior director, arms control and nonproliferation, National Security Council
"This is the decisive moment for the Trump Administration if Syria launches an attack. Clearly the administration’s last retaliatory strike, if this report is correct, did not deter Syria."
"If Syria goes forward the administration cannot launch another pinprick attack at obsolescent Syrian aircraft. The warning from White House talks of the 'heavy price' not only Syrian regime but Assad must pay... That means striking top level Syrian leadership including Assad. Anything less will be seen as America blinking. We tried diplomacy, then limited retaliation, now it is all out or virtual capitulation."
Jim Jeffrey, (former) U.S. ambassador to Turkey and Iraq; (former) deputy national security adviser under President George W. Bush. 

"The alleged preparations [for a chemical attack] are the latest in a series of episodes over the past two months where Assad is escalating with the US, not the other way around." 
"Will Russia and Iran support Assad as they have recently in southern and eastern Syria?"
Andrew Tabler, Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Former President Barack Obama chose not to honour his own warning to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad when he spoke of 'red lines' that would not be permitted to be crossed. Referring to the use of chemical weapons, Syria was given adequate warning that there would be repercussions should Assad decide to make use of them to destroy the lives of civilian Syrians helpless to defend themselves against the murderous venom of their Alawite ruler who took umbrage that his Sunni population defied him.

In stepped Vladimir Putin, reasoning that diplomacy and persuading Assad to surrender his chemical stockpile was a better choice than military action, and he was successful in assuring Barack Obama that this disciplinary action was all that was required to bring moral order and some semblance of sanity back to the Syrian regime. That was a notable farce; not only were all of Syria's chemical stockpiles not released to the international agency tasked to receive and destroy them, but the United States administration lost its superpower status in one fell swoop of accommodation.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate made his choice and his decision led to a brief loosening of tensions, but also emboldened Vladimir Putin to seriously enter the madhouse that Syria had made of the Middle East, enrolling Europe as Syria's major recipient of Sunni Syrian refugees; haven in exchange for restraining himself from slaughtering even more civilians than he was committed to destroying. Those chemical weapons went into use yet again, and were the occasion for the new president to demonstrate American mettle, discarded by his predecessor.
Still from video; aftermath of April chemical attack on Syrian civilians.

At that juncture the Tomahawk missiles that were sent into Syria to partially destroy an airstrip used by the regime to launch that latest chemical strike that killed an estimated 80 Syrians and sent countless children to hospitals, failed to adequately persuade Assad that more would be on the way should he fail to take that rebuke seriously enough. That it was an air base that Russian planes, giving air cover to Syrian troops, Hezbollah and Shiite militias attacking Syrian rebel groups and Kurds fighting Islamic State, raised objections from Moscow. Yet several months on, signs of another impending chemical attack have been detected.

Signs that Russia and Iran characterize as inventions of Washington, looking for any plausible excuse to once again intervene in the Syrian civil war. The American threat extended to Assad to deter him from any possible new chemical attack represents a "dangerous escalation", according to Iran's foreign minister, while a senior Russian lawmaker speaks of an American "provocation". Each of these sources know intimately all about dangerous escalations and provocations. One the world's foremost supporter of terrorism, the other a skilled provocateur-nation.

The message, however is clear; once again with this new administration the White House intends to respond should Syria assault its own with chemical weapons. A Syrian fighter jet was shot down earlier in the month, and Iranian drones have on two occasions been brought down by American strikes. And the message is that the government of Syria would "pay a heavy price" should it proceed as it seems it has planned to. The U.S. is prepared to once again send cruise missile strikes into Syria.

That is certainly a dangerous escalation, but one in response to a considered warning that the actions of a brutal regime against its own population will no longer be accommodated by the world's super power that has once again assumed its mantle of global sheriff. Even under the guidance of a president whose comportment is less than coherent at times.

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