As the Saturday morning quarterbacks seek to portray the coalition missile strikes in ways that support their own agendas it seems necessary to attempt to provide a multi-dimensional view on the strikes. These dimensions include:
· The military implications of the strike
· The diplomatic messages
· The domestic political reaction
In response to the Syrian attack on its own people using chlorine gas a coalition of British, French and American naval and air forces launched missile attacks against 3 chemical production and storage facilities. The objective of the attack was two fold:
1. Seriously degrade/reduce Syria’s chemical weapons capability
2. Deter Syria from future chemical weapon usage
Reports indicate that the missiles hit and severely damaged their targets. The ability and methodology used for the attacks indicate the ability to synchronize target engagement between multiple platforms and national assets. The US attacks came from naval forces in the Red Sea and the Mediterranean ocean. Air assets launched missiles while over Saudi Arabia and the Mediterranean. While launching the missiles each element of the attacking force took air defense, naval and cyber efforts to protect the force. Reportedly all missiles hit their targets while the Syrian missile defense efforts were an abysmal failure. The Syrians reportedly launched over 40 air defense missiles and none of them successfully engaged a target. (The Russian disinformation campaign reported that there were 103 missiles and 71 shot down.)
Militarily the mission was accomplished. However, some pundits are seeking to use this description of the reaction was to be expected as no matter what President Trump and our allies do there will be detractors who are looking for opportunities to speak against the President.
The diplomatic messages of this strike go far beyond the Syrian government. The clear pronouncement that the intent was not to target Syrian President Assad tells Kim Jung Un of North Korea that the US can accomplish its military objectives without necessarily threatening the regime leadership. (This is not to say that decapitation isn’t an option.) With the upcoming denuclearization discussions between President Trump and Kim Jun Un it is clear that Kim not necessarily feel personally threatened.
The preparations for the North Korea / United ‘States historic meeting are ongoing using multiple different avenues for the preparation of the meeting. Reportedly CIA Director/Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo is leading the back channel preparatory talks. The summit will follow a meeting between Pompeo and his North Korean counterpart.
Israel is touting the strikes as a message for Hezbollah and Hamas.
Russia is certainly evaluating President Trump’s resolve to not condone chemical weapon usage. The same is true for Iran as the May Iran nuclear agreement review approaches. John Bolton’s appointment as the National Security Advisor also tends to show an increased hardline by the administration on the major issues facing the United States. Certainly potential adversaries are viewing this whole set of events as a new entity.
The continuing fight against ISIS may have had an unintentional consequence. The net winner of ISIS’s destruction is clearly President Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies. The anti- Assad forces were not capable of filling the vacuum created by the damage to ISIS. The continuing conflict in the region is extremely complex given all of the players. This has been a subject of previous articles and one that we will return to in the future.
True to form the hard left politicians like Nancy Pelosi are condemning the attacks as uncivilized. This condemnation is to be expected. The other side of the aisle has been supportive the attacks. However, there seems to be a universal return to the discussion of the war fighting powers of the President. This is a continual power struggle between the executive and the legislature. This debate is probably more posturing than reality but may continue for several weeks and then return to its traditionally dormant status.
The attack against Syria may be the opening gambit in several future conflicts–Russia‘s desire to increase its posture in the Middle-East, Iran’s goal of forming a Caliphate across the region and its conflict with the Gulf Cooperative Council, and Israel’s continual struggle for survival. These are all issues we will be watching closely.