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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Let's Hope The Warning Is Enough

The White House announced last night that intelligence indicates that the Assad regime in Syria is getting ready for another chemical attack and that, should that attack take place, the regime would pay a very heavy price.

Think about that for a moment.  It's an incredibly scary announcement.  A few months back when Assad launched a sarin gas attack on civilians in a town held by the Sunni rebels, President Trump responded by destroying the airbase from which that attack had been sent.  In ten minutes, Assad lost over 20% of his air force.  It was a crushing blow.  And yet, Assad is once again preparing a chemical attack.  What does it mean?

First of all, we do not know the intended target of the chemicals.  It could be another site held by the non-terrorist Sunni rebels.  It could be a position held by the Kurdish forces.  It could be an ISIS position.  There's no way to know right now.  Indeed, it is even possible that the attack could hit a position where there are American special operations troops.  Or maybe Assad has decided to drag Israel into the mix and he will hit the Israelis with the chemical attack.  Any of these moves would be crazy, yet, any are possible.

Right now, the Assad forces are winning in their battles in Syria.  Further, the non-Assad forces around Raqqa are slowly recapturing that city from ISIS.  It will not be all that long before all of the ISIS forces will be destroyed.  There will still be ISIS terror attacks, but the ISIS threat will no longer justify an American presence in Syria.  That would end US air strikes which protect many of the rebels who have been helping us defeat ISIS.  It would also swing the balance or power much toward the Assad regime.  In other words, Assad ought to be happy with his current position and not want to roil the waters.  Nevertheless, he is preparing for a chemical attack.

What has happened?  Is Assad embarrassed that he sat by while the USA took out an airbase after the last chemical attack?  Is Assad embarrassed that in recent days each time Syrian artillery spilled over into Israeli territory the Israeli air force struck back ten times stronger than the Syrian attack?  Is Assad worried that the USA and its coalition partners are planning to help the Kurds and the Sunni rebels set up separate regions within Syria that will remain outside the control of Assad?  Are the Iranians, Assad's main ally, telling Assad what to do?  We don't know, we just don't know.

Then there are the Russians.  They have already protested against the White House announcement.  In typical fashion, the Russians have even denounced the statement's calling this "another" chemical weapons attack because they refuse to accept that the attack which led to the US cruise missile strike ever occurred.  If Assad uses chemical weapons again (sorry Vladimir), will the Russians sit by when the US launches a punitive strike?  One would hope so, but that's far from clear.

This is a very perilous situation. 

One thing is certain, however.  America is no longer in the ostrich response mode.  During the Obama years, Assad used chemical weapons seventeen times before president Obama would even acknowledge that these attacks had happened.  Obama kept his head in the sand hoping that the chemical attacks would just go away.  President Trump and his team have adopted a much more proactive approach.  America is warning Assad not to go ahead with a second attack.  Maybe this will dissuade Assad, maybe not.  At least, though, the USA is now trying to shape events, not run from them.

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