The ramifications of the recent horrific chemical gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province, that killed about one hundred civilians and wounded hundreds, including babies, have yet to be known. Idlib is known as a center of the resistance to the Syrian dictator Pres. Assad and has been a target of previous Syrian airforce bombing, but not with chemical weapons on this scale. One of the first outcomes is that Pres. Trump announced that “my attitude towards Syria and Assad has changed,” and within a day he approved the lightning missile raid on the airfield from where the chemical weapons came.
Previously Pres. Obama called from the outset of the civil war for the ouster of Pres. Assad, but his policy was self-defeating when he allowed the Russians to come into Syria to supposedly remove their chemical weapons. But then they stayed and bolstered Assad’s Army and with their airforce also participated in attacks against the democratic opposition as well as IS. It is from then that Assad’s position has improved, and he now controls Aleppo and ca. 25% of Syria.
At first Pres. Trump, as part of his reassessment of US foreign policy, adopted a more neutral position about Assad and the Russian presence in Syria. But, now that he has seen the true face of Assad, he agrees that Assad cannot become the leader of a renewed Syria. Someone who murders his own people in sustained chemical weapons attacks cannot be considered as acceptable to the West. Pres. Trump stated “These heinous attacks by the regime cannot be tolerated.” Also “we must be on the right side of history.”
After saying these things publicly and criticizing the lame and unbelievable Russian excuse for the attack, as was done very effectively at the UN SC by US Ambassador Nikki Haley, Trump must now formulate a new policy on Syria. This hopefully will include not only the total defeat of IS, but also the bolstering of the Free Syrian Army and the Kurds and other democratic forces to truly oust Assad. How that can be achieved when Assad has full Russian and Iranian support and how that can be achieved without a direct US-Russian clash remains to be seen.
The US missile attack on the Syrian airfield from where the planes that dropped the chemical weapons originated was an excellent move by Pres. Trump. Not only was it morally right, but it showed he is resolute and flexible and can respond to changed circumstances. It also puts US enemies on notice that he is not like Obama, who backed down at every opportunity, but that Trump can and will use the power of the US against its foreign enemies if needed. Since Trump is meeting with Pres. Xi of China, Xi knows that if he doesn’t act to stop N. Korea’s aggressive military tactics, then Trump may act there too. Also, it puts Pres. Putin of Russia on the back foot. He may be angry, but what can he do now, certainly not give more support to Assad, who now is universally (apart from the Iranians) seen to be detestable.