19 April 2018
19 April 2018

After American, British and French missiles hit three chemical weapons sites in Syria, President Trump went on Twitter and announced  “Mission Accomplished!”

In truth, what we have is a mission unfulfilled.

Sure, the hundred or so allied missiles did their job — damaging those facilities with pinpoint precision.

But the bottom line is this: Did they ultimately save the life of one single Syrian civilian trapped in this seven-year-old madness technically classified as a civil war?

This answer is probably not. Because while the missiles may have disrupted the Syrian government’s chemical weapons program, they did little — if anything — to change the situation on the ground.

Right after the missile strikes, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad was shown back at work, his supporters were celebrating in the streets of Damascus, and there were reports of new government attacks on rebel outposts.

It seemed like a replay of the events of April 2017 when President Trump ordered air strikes on a Syrian air base after reports that al-Assad had used chemical weapons on his own people. The goal then, according to the White House, was to send a strong warning that such acts would not be tolerated.

That warning worked for roughly a year.   On April  7th, 2018, a suspected chemical weapons attack killed dozens in the Syrian town of Douma.  Trump lashed out on Twitter, blaming the “animal Assad” and warning of military action.

It was a strange about-face for the U.S. president who just days earlier had mused in public about withdrawing the 2000-plus American forces sent to Syria to fight ISIS. Suddenly, he seemed ready to change course.

In a way he did… In a way he didn’t.

The strikes that occurred on April 14th, 2018 were different than the ones ordered a year earlier — they were more extensive and they were part of an allied operation instead of one solely carried out by the U.S. military. But this was still a “one-shot” deal— a way to send a message and not a means to end the bloodshed on the ground. In that way, it was the same.

Richard Engel — NBC’s veteran Mideast correspondent —had this quick observation:

“Assad wasn’t targeted. His air force remains intact. US efforts taken to prevent escalation with Russia. So the message seems to be that the Syrian regime can continue its war and Assad still gets to win, just not by using chemical weapons.”

At first, President Trump — playing the role of commander in chief — seemed hell-bent on a more sweeping response to the massacre in Douma. He warned Russia and Iran to stop backing al-Assad, declaring his intent to send “nice and new and smart” missiles to Syria.

Instead, within a matter of days, life in Syria was back to a bloody “normal” as if nothing had happened. And here in Washington and Florida (where he spent the week after the air strikes),  it seemed to fall off the radar for President Trump who focused his attention elsewhere.

Despite all his initial chest-thumbing to demonstrate his toughness in the face of Syrian chemical weapons attacks, the president seems to have little interest in helping to resolve the conflict in that country. And while he says he is concerned about the lives of the “beautiful little babies” of Syria, he has no intention of letting them escape the bloodshed and come here.

Refugee admissions from Syria have plummeted under his presidency. Only 11 Syrian refugees have resettled in the United States this year.

Eleven. Mothers… fathers… and those beautiful babies.

“The ongoing bloodshed and war crimes in Syria are a stark reminder that Syrian civilians need our support now more than ever,” Noah Gottschalk of Oxfam America warned in a statement.

The underlying problem, said Gottshalk, is that the Trump administration still lacks a coherent strategy to help end the conflict.   At the same time, it is slamming the door on Syrian refugees.

The truth is, we have a U.S. president with little if any interest in diplomacy, who is more inclined to seek friendship with Vladimir Putin than put additional sanctions on Russia to protest Moscow’s support for the Syrian regime. Just ask the United States Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, who warned new sanctions were coming, only to have the Trump White House respond “not so fast.”

Now we are hearing that the administration is trying to lure regional powers — including Saudi Arabia — into playing a more prominent role in Syria so the U.S. can get out. This, as French President Emmanuel Macron tells interviewers that he has convinced Trump that America needs to remain for the long term.

The White House has thrown cold water on Macron’s comments —- in part because many of President Trump’s strongest supporters remain staunchly opposed to any foreign military intervention.

Jonathan Swan — a highly-regarded political correspondent with the Axios news service got this take from one of Trump’s top campaign aides:  “Strikes not supported by the base…’massive strikes’ repulses the base.”

It’s the Trump world’s take on “Make America Great Again.” Leave the rest of the world alone… and don’t worry that those beautiful little Syrian babies may never have the opportunity to grow old.



Paula Wolfson

Paula Wolfson is a veteran Washington correspondent who has covered three presidents and six presidential campaigns. She was the White House bureau chief for the Voice of America before switching to commercial radio, where she reported on science and health care policy, Recently she returned to her first love and is writing once again on American politics and foreign policy for halimiz.com

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