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The Re-establishment Of American Credibility

Trump, Assad, Putin, And The Re-establishment Of American Credibility

President Trump’s action last night, striking with 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles a Syrian military airbase that had been the source of a chemical weapons attack against a rebel-controlled village on Tuesday, has not only punished Syrian dictator Bashar Assad for the use of chemical weapons, but put the broader region, and the rest of the world, on notice that the United States would now back its words with actions. This will have an impact far beyond Syria.

Via: Paul Coyer

A Syrian woman rests in a hospital in Reyhanli, Turkey, Friday, April 7, 2017. Turkish media, quoting Turkey’s Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag and other officials, says autopsy results show Syrians were subjected to chemical weapons attack in Idlib, Syria, on Tuesday. (AP Photo)

President Trump’s action, in addition to being a forceful defense of international norms that will serve as a deterrent to future regimes tempted to use such weapons, is a significant step toward re-establishing American credibility after eight years in which the world had become accustomed to a Washington that did not back up its rhetoric with a willingness to take action when necessary. Speaking loudly and carrying a small stick (with apologies to Teddy Roosevelt) is a sure formula for a loss of credibility and influence, and when the nation losing the credibility is the one most responsible for maintaining the global order, bad things tend to happen, as we have seen for the past several years around the globe. The world has become a much more dangerous place over the past eight years for several reasons, but in no small part due to American retrenchment as well as the perception that the American President would talk a tough game and then consistently back down and do little or nothing in the face of challenges. The result of the lack of respect with which revisionist powers held the Obama Administration was readily seen in the increasingly muscular (and successful) challenges to international norms and the international order globally – from Russia’s actions in Crimea, eastern Ukraine and elsewhere, to China’s actions in the East and South China Seas, to Iran’s activities throughout the Middle East, etc.

Two U.S. warships in the Mediterranean Sea fired 59 Tomahawk missiles intended for a single target — Ash Sha’irat Air Base 
In the case of Syria, not to act in the face of such a blatant disregard for repeated warnings against the use of chemical weapons, not to mention Assad’s own commitment to not use them (and the fact that he had supposedly given them up to the Russians after his August 2013 use of them), would have confirmed that the new leadership in Washington could be ignored just as the bad actors of the world had become accustomed to not taking seriously the previous administration. Russia, China (and the fact that Chinese President Xi Jinping is now visiting President Trump at his home in Florida, has surely helped to maximize the lesson Xi is likely to draw from this), Iran, North Korea, and others now understand that Donald Trump will back American words with action.
North Korea’s Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site

The very fact that the Assad regime used chemical weapons again is deeply embarrassing to former Obama Administration officials due to the fact that it showed the falsehood of the assertion made by Obama, former Secretary of State John Kerry, and others, regarding the success of an agreement that was reached with Russia in 2013 that was supposed to have seen all of Syria’s chemical weapons removed and disposed of so that they could no longer be used by the summer of 2014.

The agreement with Russia also was to have banned all future chemical weapons production by Syria. In the summer of 2014, John Kerry confirmed that the removal and destruction had been completed and the agreement carried out, telling NBC’s Meet the Press that the Obama Administration had “struck a deal where we got 100% of the chemical weapons out.” Nobody in the mainstream media gave scrutiny to the Obama Administration’s claims in this regard.

Politifact, which has a rather spotty record in gauging truth or fiction, asserted at the time that Kerry’s statement was “mostly true” – it has since retracted that and admitted, to its credit, that “subsequent events have proved Kerry wrong.” Assad’s use of chemical weapons also shows, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in a joint press briefing with National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster, pointed out last night that “Russia has either been complicit or Russia has been simply incompetent in its ability to deliver on its end of that agreement.”

Trump’s action also re-establishes the United States as the major power broker in the Middle East, a role that had been previously ceded to Vladimir Putin. The Middle East is a region in which strength has always been respected. Thus, Russia, which has matched its rhetoric with willingness to take action there, has gained influence in the region while the US has lost its ability to shape events. A big part of the reason Putin has reacted so angrily to Trump’s action is that he recognizes that the United States is now determined to reclaim its role as the region’s primary power broker.

This satellite image released by the U.S. Department of Defense shows a damage assessment image of Shayrat air base in Syria, following U.S. Tomahawk Land Attack Missile strikes on Friday, April 7, 2017 from the USS Ross (DDG 71) and USS Porter (DDG 78), Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers. The United States blasted the air base with a barrage of cruise missiles in retaliation for this week’s gruesome chemical weapons attack against civilians. (DigitalGlobe/U.S.

The American action in Syria also signals an emerging American policy toward the region that swings the United States away from its de facto lean towards Iran which had characterized Obama Administration policy for the past eight years, and a return to a traditional US policy aimed at containing Iranian influence rather than facilitating it. This is certain to sit well with both Israel and America’s traditional Arab allies, all of which had been increasingly alienated by the Obama policy.

Russia to send the world’s largest submarine to the Baltic

With regard to Russia, these strikes illustrate the absurdity of Democrat claims that Donald Trump is somehow the puppet of Vladimir Putin. Putin is reacting with predictable anger, claiming that the US strike is a “gift to terrorists”, suspending, as of tomorrow, the Russian-US military hotline meant to guard against potential clashes in Syria, and symbolically sending a Russian guided missile frigate from its Black Sea Fleet to the eastern Mediterranean, from which the US destroyers struck the Syrian airfield.

President Trump’s action, however, is unlikely to lead to a military confrontation between the United States and Russia. Every precaution was taken last night to avoid conflict with Russia or Russian casualties.

While the White House did not inform Vladimir Putin of the strikes, Washington did notify Moscow through the military deconfliction channel ahead of time (the same one Putin just suspended), giving Moscow time to move its personnel out of harms’ way, and Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said that the US had deliberately avoided those parts of the airfield at which Russian personnel might be located.

And despite all of the Kremlin’s saber rattling and the admitted advances in the past several years of its military modernization effort, Putin is well aware of the severe deficiencies remaining, and his attempt to modernize the Russian military is stalling as he no longer has the money he needs to continue to pour into such efforts.

The Kremlin and the Trump Administration must now begin serious negotiations regarding Syria and the future of Assad. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is scheduled to visit Moscow next week, and despite his pique at Trump’s missile strikes, Putin is not going to be likely to give up on President Trump as a negotiating partner. And for the first time in several years, Vladimir Putin, as well as the Middle East, and the broader world, will take what Washington says much more seriously.


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