Syria’s Crime and American Punishment

And now, what is going to happen next?

Donald Trump said that the images of those beautiful children snuffed out by sarin gas discharged by dictator’s Bashar al-Assad air force had had a “big impact” on him. And that is why he said he had ordered the launching of 59 missiles against the base from which those airplanes had taken off. Since the end of the World War I the use of these cruel chemical weapons has been prohibited.

I agree with the punishment. People, including the worse kind of people, have to learn that their actions have consequences. Assad’s cruelty merited the very grave sanction extracted by the Tomahawks. These missiles carry almost a ton of explosives, costing approximately $1.6 million each. In devastating the Syrian airbase the USA spent $100 million in the process.

In these meticulously annihilated facilities the operation left behind 59 craters, although the U.S. military had previously advised the Russians and Syrians of what was about to happen. And so this war foretold left only six soldiers dead. Had the calls not taken place there would have been many more. So the objective was not to kill enemy soldiers but rather to project a specific image.

For Donald Trump it was a learning experience. He learned that the President of the United States has to make decisions when all options are bad. For someone accustomed to the wheeling and dealing of the business world and supposedly an expert in getting something substantial for something he is giving up, it must have felt strange to throw $100 million overboard (literally) without the expectation of receiving anything in return, except for sharp criticisms from those negatively affected.

Were he to weaken Assad he would be favoring, ISIS and Al Qaeda, sworn enemies of the United States. Were he to abstain from intervening, as he himself was wont to proclaim on the campaign trail to the White House, he would be benefiting Assad, Iran and Russia, while straining and damaging relations with Turkey, a NATO ally, as well as with Saudi Arabia, an uncomfortable, despotic and erratic friend, but nonetheless a valuable oil supplier and large purchaser of American products, especially costly military equipment.

Facing this same crossroads Obama had preferred to pay the price of not acting against Assad, despite having declared that the use of chemical weapons meant crossing a “red line.” Surely, the warning was but braggadocio intended to stop Assad from using them, akin to the bluff employed by poker players. The only problem is that once the lie is discovered enemies realize that the player is weak and are thus emboldened.

Probably Obama was aware of how Eisenhower spent eight years of relative tranquility in the U.S. presidency resorting to the bluff of being disposed to use nuclear weapons against anyone challenging American power. When he eventually retired it was revealed that he had been bluffing all along. Obviously we are talking about a victorious general and not an inexperienced Nobel Peace Prize winner.

The Syrians, and above all the Russians, were testing Donald Trump. They didn’t need a chemical weapons barrage to achieve the objective of submitting Assad’s enemies. They were achieving this goal with conventional weapons. But the play misfired.

In addition to the terrible images of murdered children, Trump’s foremost motivation was to send the message that with him in the White House one cannot kid around. He is not Obama. That is why, 24 hours before unleashing his missile fury he twitted, unfairly, that the use of chemical weapons was the fault of the previous president for not having acted strongly after having drawn the imaginary red line ignored by the Syrians. It was the first sign that there was to be a response.

And now, what is going to happen next? No doubt, like Netanyahu said, the Iranians and the North Koreans will watch their step. They now know that Donald Trump shoots from the hip. The only problem is that this also has some serious consequences. Politics is the art of selecting the least bad option. The problem is that we almost never know which is that cursed action.


*Journalist and writer. His last book is the novel Tiempo de Canallas.

Published in Spanish by El Blog de Montaner on Saturday April 8th, 2017. 

*The opinions published herein are the sole responsibility of its author.*