As night gave way to day we began to get greater clarity about exactly what happened with last night’s missile strikes against al Shayrat Air Base in Syria. It was security theater with no deterrent effect.
Davis also said that U.S. officials notified Russian forces in advance of the strike and took precautions to minimize risk to Russian or Syrian personnel located at the airfield.
Syrian military officials appeared to anticipate Thursday night’s raid on Syria‘s Shayrat air base, evacuating personnel and moving equipment ahead of the strike, according to an eyewitness.
Local residents say the Russian military had used the air base in early 2016 but have since withdrawn their officers, so the base is now mainly operated by Syrian and Iranianmilitary officers. There is also a hotel nearby where Iranian officers have been staying, though it was not clear whether it was damaged.
The eyewitness believes human casualties, at least within the civilian population, were minimal, as there was no traffic heading toward the local hospital.
Former National Security Adviser and ABC News contributor Richard Clarke said this attack, one of the quickest displays of force by a new president in recent history, is largely “symbolic.”
“This attack on one air base seems more symbolic,” Clarke said. “I think Secretary of Defense [General] James Mattis gave the president a list of options, this being the smallest. It was a targeted attack not designed to overwhelm the Syrian military … I think the president was trying to differentiate himself from his predecessor.”
If the purpose of the attack was not to actually reduce and degrade Syria’s chemical weapon stockpile and Syria’s ability to use chemical weapons, then there really was no purpose in the strike. It served no deterrent effect. Everyone already knows the US has the capability of striking targets from over the horizon. Given the warnings the US gave Russia, which Russia appears to have passed on to its Syrian client allowing them to move personnel and equipment and minimize/mitigate operational losses, the strike had no actual or effective strategic purpose. It doesn’t deter the Syrians from doing anything – they already knew we could do this at any time. Also, providing all these warnings seems to completely bely the President’s oft stated preference for utilizing the element of surprise. There was no surprise in last night’s attacks.
Moreover, once again the Interagency process appears to have either broken down or been ignored.
What we instead have is the use of an over the horizon strike as security theater intended to bolster the Administration’s theme of the week, not actually and effectively deter the use of chemical weapons.
And this type of security theater has significant repercussions:
Just as I suspect the North Korean missile test on Tuesday was intended not just to intimidate North Korea’s neighbors, but to give Xi Jinping additional leverage in his summit with the President today, last night’s missile strikes were partially intended to reverse that dynamic. Unfortunately they’ve also given the Kremlin a new opportunity to pursue the Putin Doctrine of showing that liberal democracy, as exemplified by the US, is not any better than, and often is hypocritically worse, than any other form of government and governance.
Reuters reports that:
Russia wants an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council to discuss U.S. missile strikes on Syria, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Friday, describing the action as “thoughtless”.
The ministry said in a statement that Russia was also suspending a Syrian air safety agreement with the United States, saying:
“This is not the first time the United States has resorted to such a thoughtless step, which merely exacerbates existing problems and threatens global security.”
Russia has dismissed Western accusations against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who Washington says was responsible for a chemical gas attack that left scores dead in the Syrian province of Idlib.
The foreign ministry said it was clear that the U.S. missile strikes were prepared before the Idlib incident.
The United States, and specifically the Trump Administration, is now going to experience having Russia try to use the UN Security Council to turn the tables over the strikes against the al Shayrat Air Base. Whoever thought that coordinating the strike with the Russians, in order to deconflict the airspace, minimize damage, and conduct a symbolic attack to demonstrate US resolve, the ability to project force (which no one doubted), and deter future attacks was a good idea just got played for a fool. Putin and the Russian government are going to use this to beat the US about the head and shoulders to achieve their own objectives in the Levant and within the global system.