Commentary: Why the U.S. fired those cruise missiles at Syria

The ruins of the 2018 American-led bombing of Damascus and Homs. Photo: Tasnim News Agency
The ruins of the 2018 American-led bombing of Damascus and Homs. Photo: Tasnim News Agency

By Barbara Franz

The response to a suspected chemical attack in the rebel-held town of Douma, Syria, a week ago that killed at least 80 people occurred in the early morning hours on Saturday.

American, British and French cruise missiles, about 100 of them,  were fired at storage and research facilities near Damascus and Homs, with the stated aim of destroying chemical weapons capabilities of the Assad regime.

How effective the strikes were in actually targeting these facilities is at this point unclear, despite President Trump’s misguided and inept statement “mission accomplished.”

If the Trump administration defines its objective as stopping the Syrian government from continued use of chemical weapons on its own people, current American involvement in the region will not guarantee this result.

John Brennan, CIA director in the Obama administration, said that these actions against Syria will probably not hinder Assad’s capabilities significantly.

Barbara Franz
Barbara Franz

On Friday night, however, Trump promised in a televised speech to the nation a sustained campaign to stop the Syrian government’s recurring use of chemical weapons, while also stressing the limits of America’s ability—and our willingness—to do more to stop the immense bloodletting that has devastated that country since 2011.

Indeed, chemical weapons don’t seem to be the worst that Syrians are enduring these days. The death toll from those multiple attacks has been small in comparison to the fatalities inflicted by crude and indiscriminate munitions such as widely-used barrel bombs.

If the Trump administration instead is moved by humanitarian concerns over the victims of the chemical attack, things look differently.

The U.S. ambassador to the UN, Nikki Hailey, seemed to imply such concerns when she told the UN Security Council “the pictures of dead children were not fake news” but rather, the result of the “Syrian regime’s barbaric inhumanity.”

Peter Baker of the New York Times points out that if the Trump administration truly was moved by humanitarian concerns over the victims of the war in Syria, it could have reversed the policy of barring virtually any new Syrian refugees from the United States.

The U.S. re-settled 15,479 Syrian refugees in 2016. But under Trump, that number decreased in 2017 to only 3,024. So far in 2018, only 11 Syrian refugees have been admitted.

In strategic terms, Peter Beaumont and Andrew Roth of The Guardian argue that the missile strikes ought to have demonstrated the military firepower of the Americans and their Western allies.

The strikes appear to have been staged with ample prior warning to Russia and (as France admitted) even to Syria.

The strikes were extremely limited in scope, leaving most of the Syrian military’s key assets in place and untouched. The cruise missiles fired by the U.S. B1-B Lancer heavy bombers, French Rafales, and U.K. Tornados GR4s – as well as from carriers in the Mediterranean – were among the world’s most modern weapons.

Beaumont and Roth estimate that, in 45 minutes, about $50 million-worth of weapons were launched. Thus, the U.S., France and the U.K. might have succeeded in demonstrating to Iran and Russia that their arsenals are large, and filled with high-tech and extremely efficient weapon systems!

These latest attacks may have starkly underlined once again how – despite the huge humanitarian cost of the war in Syria – the country has become the proving ground for some of the world’s most advanced weapons, deployed by the U.S. and Russia.

President Trump delivers address to the nation after April 2018 military strike against Syria. Image: The White House
President Trump delivers address to the nation after April 2018 military strike against Syria. Image: The White House

The escalation between the powers controlling Syria today no longer has much to do with the origins of the conflict. The battle between President Bashar Assad and his opponents has faded into the background.

As Christiane Hoffmann of Der Spiegel notes, the conflict is escalating because of the actions of regional powers including Iran, Israel and Turkey, as well as Russia and the U.S.

The most recent military strike will further exacerbate the situation. In the worst-case scenario, it even could result in a direct confrontation between the U.S. and Russia.

Humanitarian concerns and prevention of future chemical weapon attacks? Or a showcase for modern weapons?  What was the international purpose? Or was the real objective domestic?

Only two things are certain for now: First, the strike’s domestic purpose was achieved. For a brief moment, Americans stopped paying attention to the disastrous scenario Trump is facing with the subpoena of his lawyer (and “fixer”) Michael Cohen, and former CIA director James Comey’s revelations in his new book A Higher Loyalty.

However, few people pay attention to the second certainty: Nobody seems to be concerned with the Syrians themselves any longer.

Barbara Franz, Ph.D., is a political science professor at Rider University, and a Morristown resident.


Editor’s note: The opinions expressed above are the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect those of this publication.

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  1. This is an opinion piece, it’s not presented as news, it’s listed as a commentary. News outlets have done this for a long time. You don’t have to agree with it and if you don’t, you can write your own commentary to counter it. The local news is still here for you to digest.

  2. I too come here for local news, not a re-hash of MSNBC or CNN opinions and comments from the night before.

  3. Mr. Public,
    It’s more “strangely strong” that you do not use your own name on this post.

    And for your info, there are many of us with “strangely strong feelings.” Check in again after we flip CD 11’s House seat and many of the local municipal seats in November.

    Volunteering at soup kitchens and gardens is a wonderful thing, but informing your neighbors about civic and political events also ranks high on the list of community involvement activities. Democracy dies when we have an uniformed electorate.

  4. Lobbing missiles but no strategy…
    So what was Trump doing? Does he really believe that a few cruise missiles will change Assad’s behavior? The week before he made clear his intention to wash his hands of the conflict by withdrawing all U.S. troops from northeastern Syria. Or was his real intention in ordering the strikes to shift the subject away from investigations of the conduct of himself and his associates whose findings are becoming more incriminating by the day?

    There are real things that the United States can and should do to stop the suffering of the Syrian people. Bombing their country is not one of them. Trump could let Syrian refugees into the U.S. He could contribute generously to United Nations humanitarian aid efforts. And, most importantly, could put on a full court press to convince European allies and other parties to the conflict to craft a peace agreement.

    It’s hard to see what Trump has done as a step forward for the people of Syria. It appears that Trump is deploying abroad the strategy that he has adopted domestically — improvisational chaos.

  5. Will somebody hit the gong here? Barbara Franz’ repeated drumbeat of anti-Trump rhetoric is exhausting…I thought this site was I’m here looking for local news, not, yet another Trump diatribe that parrots the NY Times, The Guardian or Der Spiegel by a local resident that has strangely strong feelings. I don’t think I’m out on a limb, when I say: we get it, you don’t like Trump and think he should open the border. Babs, maybe start smaller and try volunteering at the community garden event this weekend? It will be well-placed energy for your neighbors and a good distraction.


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